Across Canadian universities, we’re seeing more and more sexual assault cases rising reported and unreported because the universities are looking the other way, saying the incident that took place off-campus, is not our problem.
That should not be the response because the accused and victims are both your student. You have a responsibility to investigate every claim and take action and put an end to this kind of behaviour on campus.
Universities should be a welcoming place where students can learn and feel safe without fear of being assaulted on-campus or off-campus.
This not only happening at Queens University but’s also happening at all Canadian universities,
This week we interviewed the Founder of Consent at Queen, an Instagram account details allegations of sexual assault at Queen’s University, where students submit their stories anonymously. Consent at Queen Instagram.
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Anwar: Okay, perfect. Do you guys want to introduce yourself?
Megan: Sure. I’ll go ahead. My name is Megan Sieroka, I’m a fourth year student at Queens University studying global development studies and politics at Queens University.
Maeve: And my name is Maeve Avis Kozar . I am also in my fourth year at Queens University and I am majoring in gender studies.
Anwar: That’s pretty good. My name is Anwar Abdi . I’m a senior editor here at University Magazine. I actually went to University of Windsor, but I graduated in 2019. So, I avoided the pandemic.
Anwar: So, I’ve seen on the page a couple of months ago, and reading this story is really terrifying. I’m not a parent, say but if I’m a parent, I’d be scared to send my kids to university, because the stuff that’s happening on campus is very scary. So, my question for you guys is what made you guys start the Consent at Queens University page?
Megan: So, it honestly started when I started university a few years ago, and I think the same for Maeve, is just that you hear reports of horrible statistics and Queens is an unsafe space. Then you also see it in your friends and your peers. And it’s very under the table, it’s not talked about by staff or administration. But Queens definitely has a problem with sexual violence, and sexual assault, and just nonconsensual behavior, as well, all over campus and off campus. Yeah, we just weren’t seeing any action being taken. Even when we reached out to administration and staff, nothing was changing. So, we really just decided to take a leap of faith, and hopefully this would get someone’s attention.
Anwar: I see. What inspired you guys to start the page?
Maeve: A large part of it was a page called Stolen by Smith, if you’ve seen that. It’s about the Smith School of Business on campus. Like Megan has said, I guess you could say it was the last straw, mostly. We saw a lot of problems and then Stolen by Smith really blew up, and it was great to see people speaking out about their experiences and their stories. So, that gave us a lot of inspiration to start a similar page.
Anwar: Yeah, I heard about this Stolen by Smith. Are you guys getting any kind of backlash from the university for starting this page?
Maeve: No, they haven’t contacted us at all.
Anwar: So, they didn’t call after you guys saying, “Oh, how dare you start this page?”
Maeve: We’ve spoken to some people from the sexual violence prevention and response office, the SVPRO, but higher up administration we’ve hadn’t had any contact with them.
Anwar: That’s good. Are you guys getting the story only from Queens, or is it from across campuses, across Canada?
Megan: We’re just focusing on Queens.
Anwar: Okay, that’s good. I can’t believe sexual assault’s actually happening in this age of time on campus. Everybody should feel safe going to university, but unfortunately that’s not the life we live in. So, going forward, are the universities providing any kind of help to students who are affected by this?
Maeve: There are some. There is mental health services on campus. They aren’t perfect. I don’t think any university has perfect services, to be honest. There are definitely some issues, and some of the stories actually do speak about them going to some sort of Queens service for help, and having pretty poor experiences there, pretty terrifying experiences. So, I think there are some avenues for help. There’s SAC, the Sexual Assault Center Kingston, and they do have a subsection of Q SAC, it is a club on campus. And there is the SVPRO, like I mentioned. But at least from our perspective, I’m sure Megan feels the same, there isn’t enough to help meet the demand.
Megan: Yeah. As for the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office, there are currently, I believe, only three people employed in that office. And if you’re seeing the demand and also the quantity of students at Queens, that definitely isn’t enough. One of our suggestions, and something that’s been done at the University of British Columbia, is a satellite location of their local sexual assault center. And that would be great because that would allow access, and also be just really helpful on campus.
Anwar: Right, right. I know the university mental health or the counselors are hard to get ahold of, right? I know when I went to school, one of my friends, it took her four weeks to see a counselor. Four weeks to speak to somebody, that’s very, very long. Because if something happens, you need help right away. You’re not going to need help four weeks later. So, it is very alarming. And it’s kind of scary that universities, even though they’re collecting a lot of money from students, they’re not putting that resource into setting up mental health and support that they need to move on with their life.
Megan: Couldn’t agree more. Yep.
Anwar: I’m just reading my script here. So, I heard of stories around students be sexually assaulted at off-campus party. Is that happening at the University of Queens, as well?
Megan: Yeah, the majority of the cases are off campus, and that’s why Queens hasn’t addressed it. They’re like, “It’s off-campus. It’s not our problem.” But we would disagree. It’s still your students, and there’s obviously a cultural problem at Queens that’s allowing for this kind of culture to continue. But yeah, it’s mostly off-campus.
Anwar: I can’t believe they would say that it’s not our problem, it’s off-campus. They’re their students. People who are setting up those parties are also their students, right?
Maeve: Yeah, it’s difficult when they say there’s not jurisdiction over there, but they are at a house that has their front steps are painted Queens colors. They are very, very explicitly associating themselves with Queens.
Anwar: Especially at the frat and sorority houses.
Megan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Anwar: So, I know students are scared of speaking of what happens to them off campus or on campus because of a fear of being blamed. “Oh, it’s your fault. Oh, you .” Is that still a culture at the University of Queens?
Megan: Yeah. I would definitely say that’s a culture at Queens, but also just a culture with consent and sexual assault more generally. People don’t want to come forward because nothing’s being done. There’s not the policy in place to protect them. And they just are scared that their voices aren’t going to be heard, which has happened. So, there’s reason for them to feel that type of way, yeah.
Anwar: Do you have things to add, to your friend?
Maeve: No, I just think victim-blaming goes way past Queens. It’s not only on our campus, it’s in a society, it’s a societal issue. And I think there’s a lot of barriers in place to prevent people from speaking out, both subconscious and very explicit. People don’t want to go and re-traumatize themselves having to explain, and argue, and defend themselves over and over to every single person they have to talk to. So, it’s really difficult.
Anwar: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:07:41] Go ahead
Megan: Oh, and just like you mentioned earlier… Oh my goodness, I lost my train of thought. Yeah, if you want to go get help, and you want to go see an emergency service or a mental health service in any way, you can’t be waiting a month to see some help. And that’s definitely a big problem at Queens.
Anwar: Hopefully, the universities can put a lot of resources towards that, because especially after COVID, people being stuck home, the mental health cases are going to go up. But we’ll see what happens at the university. Also, I feel like universities should have an open dialogue, welcome the student to speak openly about what happened to them and not blame them. Because I know the site I would live in, if something happens to you they say, “Oh, you played the victim. Oh, this always happens.” The students are also scared of putting their names out, I know because if a sexual assault happened and they go to court, they have to speak in front of the jury and then their name might be in the newspaper. And they’re like, “Oh, this is going to ruin my career.” That’s also one of the things that are affecting the student, I believe. What do you guys think?
Maeve: Yeah, absolutely.
Megan: Definitely. Yeah, and something I was going to add is trial can be very scary, and also just not feeling heard. I completely agree with that on campus, yeah.
Maeve: Yeah. No, I feel the same. It’s just there’s, a lot of times, a lack of support from the administrative side. A lot of times support comes from their family and their friend networks. It’s more personal like that. But we need better support from the legal or the administrative side.
Megan: Sorry, I keep interrupting you.
Anwar: It’s all right, go ahead. My apologies.
Megan: Also, if you’re going on campus to report a sexual assault or something that happened to you in class or off-campus, it’s attached to your student name and your student number, and you’re saying it to a faculty. It’s just a little more intimidating to know that that’s attached to your student profile at Queens, and that can definitely dissuade people from speaking up.
Anwar: Oh, they actually attach it to your student file?
Megan: In many cases, depending on the situation, and it’s outlined in the sexual violence policy, they have to disclose your name, or they have to attach it to your student file in some way. So, that definitely hurts people.
Anwar: There’s no privacy. Then that way anybody can have access to the student files, and say, “Oh, look, they’re a victim.” They should have some kind of privacy in place to protect the student’s identity.
Maeve: That’s one of the issues with that policy, it came out I want to say sometime last year. And there was a lot of backlash, one of the things being the disclosure issue. So, the policy has actually gone back under review. I think it just got released in December. I’m not a hundred percent, but they definitely had issues with that.
Anwar: Yeah, that’s unacceptable, I mean, the universities have a lot of resources. When things happen to people, they usually turn to their friends or family because those people understand the student. They are able to resonate. But the universities have a lot of resources, like billions of dollars, to set up programs and awareness, obviously. Is Queens setting up some kind of awareness during the welcome week about consent on campus?
Maeve: There is some, but we definitely think there needs to be more there. At least I remember personally in my orientation week, there is a discussion about it, but it’s pretty fleeting, and a lot of the things are optional. So, that’s one of the issues that we’ve had is that we think there needs to be more mandatory consent education, especially when you first arrive at the university, whether you are a first-year student or you are transferring in, or you’re an exchange student or things like that.
Megan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, they do have a bit of discussion about it in orientation week. Something that we’ve discussed with the university is implementing mandatory consent training, consent modules in your first few weeks at school. Just so there’s a greater understanding of nonconsensual behaviours, and sexual violence is not tolerated on campus, and letting that be known to all new students should definitely be a priority of the schools. But the consent modules right now are not mandatory and have a completion rate of about 4%.
Megan: So, it’s obviously, yeah.
Anwar: hey, that’s not much. I totally agree. They should make it mandatory, especially for freshmen or new people who are coming to university, because that way they have a clear setup, like there’s zero tolerance for sexual assault or any kind of behaviour towards students. And making that work they will ease the university’s rape culture, isn’t that what they call it?
Megan: Yes, definitely.
Maeve: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Anwar: Okay. All right, thanks. I really appreciate you two for taking the time to speak with me.
Megan: Thanks for meeting with us. I’m glad that you’re covering such an important issue.
Anwar: thank you so much, I really appreciate it. Thanks, guys. Stay safe.