It’s difficult for universities to develop procedures for responding to on-campus discrimination.
Students who experience discrimination have the option of reporting incidents to the Queen’s Non-Academic Misconduct Intake Office (NAMIO), yet few do.
A 2021 survey found that, of the students who experienced discrimination, only five per cent reported the incident to Queen’s.
The survey’s responses equally reflected students’ belief reporting harassment is futile, as students expressed their expectation of the University’s inaction in response to reports.
This expectation is a realistic one, informed by Queen’s lacklustre press releases, which promise greater action than they can deliver.
In October 2022, a swastika was drawn on a fridge in Endaayaan – Tkanónsote, formerly known as the Albert Street Residence.
Following the incident, Queen’s provided a statement to The Journal asserting its intention to find and discipline the vandal and reiterating its intolerance for discriminatory behaviour among its students.
Despite the engagement demonstrated by the University’s initial response, Queen’s was unsuccessful in identifying the perpetrator.
This result was easily foreseeable.
Universities don’t have access to the same technical investigative resources as do other regulatory bodies. Unlike police, universities’ investigation committees can’t be expected to sweep the scene of an incident for DNA evidence.
Reporting to police isn’t always a safe option—particularly for the members of marginalized communities implicated in these scenarios—making it an unfavourable alternative.
Inviting an external body to conduct investigations into discrimination on campus could help identify perpetrators but would still leave Queen’s to decide on appropriate punishments for them.
Currently, the University seems to tend towards restorative justice over severely punitive measures. Although education can help dismantle discriminatory beliefs, it’s unlikely to do so without a student’s desire to learn.
Consequences for discrimination need to strike a balance between restorative justice and punitive measures. Perpetrators should be offered the opportunity to correct their misconceptions, but need to be deterred from acting hatefully again.
The non-academic misconduct system can mandate students who violate alcohol consumption rules in residence to complete online courses promoting responsible alcohol consumption.
But Queen’s can’t pretend to expect change in discriminatory behaviours from assigning a remote module.
Investigations being conducted externally can’t motivate students to report discrimination more often. NAM’s ambiguity about the consequences for harassers can lead students to doubt whether there are any.
A definitive, always-effective procedure for investigating and addressing discrimination is difficult to settle on, but transparency should be mandatory. If students knew how transgressors were being punished, they might be more likely to believe their reports were being acted upon.
Encouraging students to report harassment by facilitating the reporting procedure would also help students believe in the University’s desire to address their experiences.
Queen’s dedicates countless resources to helping the City police parties. If the same energy were dedicated to developing ways to adequately investigate and address discrimination on campus, we would likely see increased reports and successful investigations.
The University can’t be blamed for failing to complete investigations beyond their means or miraculously dissolving its students’ discriminatory beliefs, but it can be faulted for its complacency.
If Queen’s really cares to defend discriminated-against students, it will act with more than press releases.
—Journal Editorial Board
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