Written by: Laura Oviedo-Guzmán
On February 23rd, 2022, Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides released an article titled “Committing to safer campuses.” Here he addresses the need for better policies to support those who come forward with stories about their experiences of sexual violence, focusing the discussion through the lens of “improv[ing] access and the student experience.” This “flagship initiative” is a part of the Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs, a strategy created to supply the province with the trained professionals needed for Alberta’s future via a focus on “provid[ing] high quality education.” As a result, the University of Lethbridge’s policy regarding sexual violence is currently under review following a few changes in line with the Provincial recommendations.
Changes to the 2019 Policy
As it stands, the University of Lethbridge’s current institutional policy was appropriate in terms of clarity and originates from a survivor-centred approach. The policy only changed with respect to four areas–including online communications in the scope, the addition of specific no-contact orders, the inclusion of third-party/anonymous reporting, and language around frivolous or vexatious concerns.
- Mild change to the scope–Section 2. The 2019 policy and the current draft for consultation cover instances of gender-based and sexual violence between members of the university community (volunteers, students, post-doctoral fellows, faculty, and staff) on-campus, off-campus at a university-sanctioned event. The current draft widens the scope to include “social media, online communication platforms, remote work applications, and other online means.” In essence, this change would allow a member of the university community to file a complaint under our institutional policy against another member if they are receiving unsolicited sexual material on an online platform. This change was initiated by the university community members and was not a part of the Alberta Government’s requirement list.
- Addition of specific no-contact orders–Section 5. The current draft has made the Disclosure and Reporting Options section more reader-friendly by presenting the options in point form. One of the major changes in this section is clarification around no-contact orders. Where the 2019 policy previously mentioned that complainants, who file a formal complaint through the policy, are entitled to request no-contact orders, the current draft goes one step further. The current draft explicitly states that a complainant may request face-to-face no-contact orders during the formal complaint process, meaning that survivors will be protected from seeing and being contacted by the respondent, the subject of the complaint.
- The inclusion of third-party/anonymous reporting–Section 5. This reporting option does not prompt a formal investigation on behalf of the university, unlike a formal complaint. This provides the opportunity for someone who experienced gender-based violence as well as sexual violence or a witness (i.e. a third party) to provide anonymous data. Anonymous data helps inform future policy changes, and prevention efforts, and is used to enhance security measures on campus. Suppose a survivor, for example, were not ready to initiate a formal complaint process but wanted to come forward. In that case, this might be a good initial option as it would leave a record of their experience, which could help mitigate re-victimization if the survivor decided to submit a formal complaint in the future.
- Language around frivolous or vexatious concerns–Section 4. Where the 2019 Policy states that disciplinary action will be taken against persons who bring forth “frivolous or vexatious concerns” (i.e. reports that are intended to harass the alleged respondent). The current draft maintains this principle and adds the acknowledgment that these reports are “exceedingly rare,” and suggests contacting the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Prevention Coordinator for clarification around concerns of a university community member. Recognition helps to ensure that survivors are not deterred from coming forward out of fear that they will not be believed. It also conveys to those who have caused harm that they are not exempt from the consequences of their actions.
In addition to the changes listed above, the University’s Gender-Based and Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator has succeeded in making Sexual and Gender-Based Violence training mandatory for all continuing and incoming students beginning in Spring 2023. Students who do not complete this training will have a hold placed on their account, preventing them from registering for courses. The training is called “Understanding and Responding to Sexual Violence: Level One” and can be found at ULeth’s Sexual Violence Support & Violence website, by clicking the “Take our Course” section.
As a part of the Government-mandated policy review, post-secondary institutions are required to complete revision sessions for the policy draft. However, the Alberta Government did not outline how to conduct such a process, so it was up to each institution to decide how to approach it. The University of Lethbridge hosted its first round of consultation sessions, taking a bottom-up approach, with the university community between September 26th and October 5th. Among the groups consulted for feedback were staff, students, faculty, the Indigenous community, and the 2SLGBTQ+ community on campus. The most frequent feedback received during this session was a request to widen the policy scope to include instances of gender-based and sexual violence that occur off-campus, outside of university-sanctioned events, between University of Lethbridge students.
The second round of consultation will be conducted until November 14th, and your feedback is needed. The policy is in place to protect and support the university community at large. However, we must recognize that we students are navigating an institution in which power imbalances are inherently present and that our experiences, good and bad, are not contained to the university campus. Keeping this in mind, we need to speak up and provide feedback on projects that concern our wellbeing, like this policy review, to ensure that we are being truly supported by the institution we attend. I strongly encourage you to visit the current draft at ULeth’s Sexual Violence Support & Education website, by clicking the Sexual Violence policy section and submitting any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, you are more than welcome to contact the Gender-Based and Sexual Violence Support Coordinator to resolve any questions you have about the changes and receive support if you have experienced sexual violence.
The updated Sexual Violence Policy is set to be finalized by December 2022.