UMSU, in conjunction with the U of M’s office of human rights and conflict management (OHRCM), held a sexual violence policy consultation with students Nov. 21 to discuss the policy recommendations laid out in an independent report containing over 40 recommendations to be implemented within six months.
The report — titled Responding to Sexual Violence, Harassment and Discrimination at the University of Manitoba: A Path Forward — was released in August and outlines 43 recommendations to improve the university’s Respectful Work and Learning Environment policy and Sexual Assault policy in order to better serve the best interests of students, staff and faculty.
The university announced its acceptance of the recommendations back in September, as well as its commitment to having plans for implementation prepared within six months.
The consultation’s discussion was centred around student perspectives on the recommendations. The OHRCM plans on having an amended Respectful Work and Learning Environment policy and Sexual Assault policy (to be renamed the Sexual Violence policy) firmly in place by fall 2020.
A number of interested students attended the consultation, as well as Joel Lebois and Faye Brandson from the OHRCM and several UMSU executives.
Phoenix Nakagawa — a student in the faculty of agricultural and food sciences — spoke up a number of times during the consultation, detailing her concerns about the accelerated timeline the U of M intends to follow on the implementation of the recommendations.
“I do not think the university is really well-prepared for this,” said Nakagawa. “There needs to be a lot more conversation about it, there needs to be a lot more implementation strategies with it. It’s really concerning to see that they’re trying to expedite this within a year.”
Nakagawa also expressed concern regarding student confidentiality and confusion over who a student can or should report to as it pertains to recommendation 32, which recommends that “the UM adopt a policy that would require anyone in a supervisory or management position at the UM who receives a disclosure of sexual violence to document this in a form to be sent to the Office of Human Rights and Conflict Management (OHRCM).”
“I don’t think that the confidentiality will be respected [in this system],” said Nakagawa.
International student Chimdinma Chijoke — an UMSU board member representing the University College Residence Students’ Association (UCRSA) and member of the UMSU governance committee — attended the consultation to speak on behalf of residence and international students.
“Residence,” as it pertains to student accommodation on campus, is mentioned a total of 26 times in the U of M Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Violence released in January 2019. According to the survey, 17.5 per cent of sexual assaults on the university’s campus took place in a student residence building.
The survey found that “many qualitative comments support the data that students who have moved to attend the UM are more likely to have witnessed or to have someone disclose incidents of sexual violence when the survivor is also a UM student.”
Chijoke expressed hope for the upcoming Sexual Violence Resource Centre, slated to open in early 2020. She would like to see it cater to the unique experiences and cultural perspectives of international and residence students.
“There are a lot of students with dynamic experiences,” said Chijoke. “Students in different years could be coming from cultures that address sexual violence different from how it is addressed in Canada.”
“I wonder if programs will be made available to cater to those kinds of students and transition them into how sexual violence is treated here as opposed to how it is treated back where they come from.”