U of A Students’ Union calls out campus leaders for lack of sexual violence safety; SAMRU submits sexual violence recommendations to MRU
By Keoputhy Bunny, News Editor
The University of Alberta’s Students’ Union (UASU) has collaborated with several other student organizations to produce an open letter, calling out the lack of safety measures against sexual violence on the university’s campus.
The letter states that “[University of Alberta’s] administration and other campus leaders have often failed in their responsibility to create a safe learning environment.” Ten demands to reform the way sexual assault is handled at University of Alberta (U of A) were also outlined.
Some of the demands include hiring a sexual violence prevention and response coordinator as well as mandatory training on consent and sexual violence for staff, students and instructors.
The letter pulls information from Statistics Canada saying, one in 10 female students are sexually assaulted and 71 per cent of students have witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behavior.
The letter concluded by saying, “Advocacy on sexual violence at all levels frequently encounters some variation of, ‘I’m sympathetic and deeply concerned, but there’s not much I can do.’ Deep concern, when accompanied by continued inaction, is hypocrisy.”
U of A has also been criticized in past for how they’ve dealt with sexual assault. In 2015, CBC wrote that over 40 sexual assault incidents were reported to U of A staff in the 2015-16 academic year. In 2019, the university once again came under fire for the way their appeal process was handled for sexual assault cases.
Sam Pearson, the director of University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, told CBC in 2019 that the ‘hearings were treated like criminal proceedings.’
U of A’s Provost Steven Dew was quick in responding to the letter. In The Quad, U of A’s official faculty and staff blog, Dew wrote that “While the university has made progress in recent years in achieving our goals in this area, there is more we can do and we can do better.”
Dew pledged that the university was working with the USAU to hire a new sexual violence prevention and response coordinator and plans to meet with student leaders as soon as possible to discuss this issue in further detail. He also agreed with several points from the 10 demands but did not say how or when they will be implemented.
The Students Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) also published something similar in October of 2021 through the Dating, Domestic, and Sexual Violence (DDSV) Advisory Committee that they have formed in 2019. Their calls-to-action paper outlined several recommendations for MRU to follow. The outlines included more education for MRU’s leadership as well as a more culturally inclusive approach to dealing with DDSV. The last point they recommended is how MRU needs to continue to develop their accountability structures.
The paper also included the strides MRU has done in the past when it comes to DDSV, such as creating the role of a dating, domestic & sexual violence response and awareness coordinator which is currently filled by Cari Ionson, the launch of a DDSV prevention project called Stepping Up and more.
The paper also included a variety of findings about DDSV at MRU. According to Ionson, there were 33 disclosures and four formal reports from September 2017 to August 2018. There were 45 disclosures and one formal report from September 2018 to August 2019. And finally, 33 disclosures and one formal report were made in September 2019 to August 2020.
U of A isn’t the only school in Alberta that’s been under fire about this topic. Students from Central Memorial High School and Western Canada High School also staged walkouts on Nov. 16 at their respective schools over sexual assault concerns.