This article was written by Sorcha DeHeer
Content warning: this interview discusses sexual violence and gender-based violence
Following the release of our January issue on Greek Life on campus, Kathleen Massey, Associate Vice President (Students), reached out to The Meliorist regarding the supports that are available at the U of L surrounding sexual violence and gender-based violence. I sat down with Kathleen Massey and Courtney Smith, the Sexual Violence Prevention Educator within Counselling Services, to discuss the resources that students and staff can access. You can visit the sexual violence website at uleth.ca/sexual-violence for more information or to get help.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Meliorist: What resources and/or supports are available for students who experience gender-based violence or sexual violence?
Courtney Smith: Within my role, I offer direct supports to students who have been affected by or subjected to sexual violence and gender-based violence. I help them find options for recovery and recourse. When I am supporting students, I hold a strong focus on their personal agency and choice, when someone has been subjected to this type of violence something has been taken from them. So, ultimately, I’m trying to give them that power back. They can sit down with me, I can give them support, both on campus and refer them to supports within our community. A lot of times I work with professors to help support students and I also write letters of accommodation. At higher times of stress, we know trauma can re-arise and I work to support students through these times.
So, that’s just one of the ways I can support individuals. If they’re going to file a formal complaint, I offer support along the way, they can come and check in with me as the process unfolds. I am there to provide support and guidance. I can give all the information in regards to that process, and then if it is decided the complaint meets our jurisdiction and they’ve decided to file a formal complaint, I can offer support all along the way while they process through that. That being said, I don’t do direct processing for trauma. That’s where our other resource would come in: counselling. I’d get them set up with one of our counsellors where they could have that one-on-one ongoing processing, that’s kind of where my scope ends.
Within the scope of my role I focus on information, guidance, education, and then support for students affected by sexual violence. I have a lot of key connections within the community. Chinook Sexual Assault Centre, I love them. I think they’re fantastic. That is a main resource I use because I like to say they’re the hub for support in regard to sexual violence and gender-based violence. They have counselling advocates who can come through the court system, and a whole list of services.
Or the Amethyst Project, they’re a really great resource to access. Where Amethyst would come in, is if there’s been a recent sexual assault within 72 hours. We recommend that you go to the hospital, avoid showering if you can or changing your clothes, because what the third option is, is that you can go to the hospital and they have a team of specialized doctors and nurses [that] do a lengthy exam. It’s a couple hours long and the [person affected] consents to every part of the exam, so nothing’s going to be done without them saying yes or no, kind of giving that agency and choice back to the survivor. What Amethyst does is they can come in and they’ll take all that evidence and they’ll house it for a year so that [the person affected] [has] up to 12 months to decide if they want to press criminal charges. This is a really nice option for individuals within our community or students. That is just one of the areas that Amethyst is fantastic, and they have an abundance of great supports and advocates on their teams.
Kathleen Massey: My role comes into play if a formal complaint is made, and then according to the [sexual violence] policy, if the complaint involves the student, then I’m involved in the process to accept that complaint, determine if it’s within our jurisdiction and then pursue options for investigation and that sort of thing. Ariane Tennant, who is the Associate Vice President (Human Resources), has the same role but for employees of the university. I rely very much on Courtney and Courtney’s counterpart in HR, Suzanne McIntosh, to provide information and guidance to the people who bring the issues to our attention.
I would say that I have another role, which is to say that as Associate Vice President (Students), I work with other leaders in the organization to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support the community, in terms of special arrangements that are identified in the policy, and creating a safe environment on campus. If there are policy or process issues that have to be addressed university-wide, then that’s another role that I play, to work with other leaders in the organization, to figure out whether or not we need to make a policy update or that sort of thing.
TM: How has this service improved or changed with the implementation of the new [sexual violence] policy?
KM: I think there are some fundamental differences between the old and the new policy that just gives people more options. For one thing, there’s no deadline to bring forward a complaint, whereas it was a 12-month deadline before. I think that in terms of giving more agency and allowing people to have time to process and think about what they want to do, we’ve done that with a new policy, and I think we’re seeing the effects of that by removing a deadline.
CS: I think where I’ve really seen it improve too, is we now have a provision for appeals. That wasn’t in the last policy and that was really imperative for us moving forward because it helps, right? Before, you got your answer, and that was it. I think now having the option to appeal something is really important. But another thing that really stands out for me in our policy is that we have a complaint review team and that is comprised of a number of different individuals.
KM: I would add that there is more clarity than there was under the old policy. Now, it’s clear how many people have access to the information, who has access and what the process and timeline will be.
CS: Each person on this committee has had some form of sexual violence training. The other thing is the investigators, those qualifications now have to be specified. Previously, that was a challenge, and that’s a huge step forward. They now have to have an explanation for the rationale. So, if an investigator says on a balance of probabilities, we’ve found a breach in our policy or no breach, they have to give a reason as to why. So, for me, I’m looking at it just from supporting the individual student that helps somebody get clarity and closure from something. I’ve seen huge steps forwards in our policy. On the website there is a flowchart that now explains to students and faculty and staff what to expect, when to expect it. There’s constant communication, which mirrors a trauma-informed approach, which is what this policy [is based around].
KM: There’s also an explicit statement in the policy to provide support whether or not a person decides to lodge a formal complaint. This is an area where we continue to grow and evolve and learn. What does support look like? That often has to do with what’s meaningful to the person who needs the support, and that can be a range of different things, but we’re very explicit right up front. What we do best is provide support to people, whether it’s therapeutic or information or education or special arrangements.
TM: What would you say is the reach or the extent of the resources and support at the university for clubs and organizations that gather off-campus? How are those students protected if something were to occur?
KM: Well, they’re protected. If they come forward to us, they’ll receive support. They don’t have to lodge a formal complaint.
CS: It’s confidential too. I have informed consents that anybody who comes and sees me, they would see that everything [they] say to me is confidential. But in the event if it were to involve a person in a position of power (such as an instructor), that’s where I would have to come forward to Kathleen and tell her that I’ve been made aware of this situation. Then the university may or may not act on it and choose to investigate, even if that person wasn’t coming to me to lodge an investigation.
KM: That could be whether it’s on or off campus. Context is important. It could be one person who has a university connection and the other person doesn’t. But if the situation happens off-campus and outside a university context, then in terms of investigation, there are limitations to the university’s jurisdiction and that’s really because we have limited jurisdiction off-campus anyway. In terms of applying sanctions, if it’s in a house party that’s just a regular house party, not a university event, then we have limited authority over that context.
CS: So, if something like that were to come up from an organization or a club, I hold confidentiality. It’s not like that community or that club is going to be made aware, it’s strictly confidential unless it is one of those very outlined sanctions within my consent form or in the policy. If it involves a faculty or staff member, I would have to breach [confidentiality]. But otherwise they’ll get the same support.
TM: With Valentine’s day coming up, what initiatives and/or campaigns will you be doing to educate students about sexual violence and its prevention on campus?
CS: We’re going to be running some booths around Valentine’s Day, and I’m going to try to connect with resources within the community. I think we’ll focus on intimate partner dating violence, because that’s something within gender-based violence and sexual violence that sometimes isn’t talked about as much. I thought that might be a really good time to highlight that and give some resources to a very specific topic within sexual violence. I host the “Understanding and Responding to Sexual Violence” workshop every month, and that’s something that you can register through Eventbrite on the sexual violence website. (Editor’s note: the next workshop will take place on February 25th, 2020, from 9:00-11:30am in Andy’s Place, AH 100).
I try to make really creative, warm, inviting titles because I do recognize that this is a really challenging topic. It’s very triggering, it can be hard for individuals to come and learn or to sign up for a workshop. I understand that it can be intimidating, so I’ve really tried to take a soft approach to it. I understand that the content is heavy and it’s difficult and it’s hard, but I’m trying to meet people where they’re at to make it more inviting so that I can be training more people on our campus.
The other thing I was going to say is one upcoming thing that is very interesting. I’m doing a video series; we’re hoping it to be five-parts focusing on different aspects. So, there’s going to be one on “what is sexual violence” and that’s where we’re going to have experts within campus and the community talking about the topic, how to support a survivor, and active bystanding, there’ll be a section on consent. I’m teamed up with U of L students that are producing it and writing it. I just got one of the screenplays for it and was reading through it. It’s really good. I hope to have [a rollout] of it in September, and that will be part of our education. There will be something that I’ll have linked on the website, which I think is also inviting. If somebody doesn’t feel ready to come to a workshop yet, but they want to learn, I’m trying to have quick, tangible resources that people can read and look at to get education and other mediums too. So that’s another big project. That’s my biggest this semester.
KM: So, from my perspective, I say the community is opening up to having nonthreatening, informative conversations about this topic, which we know is a heavy topic, but people are open to hearing the messages and participating in the conversation. And I think that’s very healthy.