The University held its first open community meeting to discuss a recently-suspended controversial section of the Queen’s sexual violence policy.
The suspended requirement, which drew criticism from the Queen’s community, mandated non-health care professionals to provide the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator (SVPRC) with a student’s name, email address, and student number in the event of a sexual violence disclosure.
Held in Robert Sutherland Hall on Oct. 17, the meeting saw turnout from students, professors, a representative from the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston (SACK), and members of the University administration.
The University hosted the meeting in response to community-wide criticism of the disclosure requirements, which questioned how they would affect student safety and confidentiality.
Teri Shearer, deputy provost (academic operations and inclusion), hosted the meeting.
“I was not personally amongst the folks who were charged with revising this policy and for a good reason, because I have no particular expertise in this area,” she said. “I can’t really form my own opinion. It’s not my field.”
In response to a Journal query about Shearer’s lack of involvement in the policy and her role hosting the meeting, Shearer said while she wasn’t responsible for revising the policy, she is a member of the senior leadership team that endorsed it.
“In many ways, not having had to struggle to balance the competing considerations in this case makes it a little bit easier for me, probably, to just take and receive feedback, because I didn’t have to struggle to try to arrive at my own decisions for most of these things prior to this,” she said.
In response to an audience member requesting records be made of the meeting for students unable to attend, Shearer didn’t say whether that information would be accessible to the public.
Shearer said a number of faculty members have provided written responses to the University outlining their concerns with the policy’s requirements.
She was also asked by an audience member whether the University is planning to alter the section of the sexual violence policy that requires non-health care professionals to answer all questions the SVPRC may have following a disclosure or else remove it entirely.
“At this point, we’re waiting to see what feedback is,” Shearer said.
The same audience member suggested the University fund education practices to teach staff members how to respond to sexual violence disclosures and provide students with different services and resources available to them without revealing their identities to the SVPRC.
Another audience member asked whether members from groups like the sexual violence bystander intervention team were on the panel to review the policy or were involved in revising the current draft.
“I regret that I do not actually know the composition,” Shearer said.
Another member in the audience said the sexual violence prevention and response working group, made up of students and faculty, was involved in consultations for changes to the sexual violence policy, but didn’t have any authority over actual revisions to the policy.
The audience member who originally asked the question suggested the University include people in the revision panel who are on the frontlines of issues surrounding sexual violence.
ASUS student representatives also shared concerns over student safety under the suspended disclosure requirements, but pointed out a lack of student awareness about the sexual violence policy and how it affects them.
One of the representatives pointed to the lack of student presence at the open community meeting as an example of student unawareness about the sexual violence policy.
Shearer admitted the University struggles to communicate with students.
“Reaching students is a problem that we struggle with all the time. I mean, we just really do,” she said.
Shearer welcomed suggestions about how to better reach students about changes to the sexual violence policy, but also mentioned the Queen’s Gazette announces when a policy is available for public feedback.
“Most of our faculty and staff didn’t pick up on that either,” she said. “It’s just a difficult problem.”
In response to a question, Shearer said faculty and staff have been directed to inform the students of the disclosure requirements.
She added that because student confidentiality cannot be maintained when a disclosure indicates risk to the community or the perpetrator is a University employee, the policy aimed to be upfront with students about what would happen in the event of a disclosure.
“It was an effort to be very clear to students in the policy what would happen and how to avoid that if you really wanted to avoid it, whereas otherwise there’s just this long list of here’s some of the situations in which confidentiality might not be able to be maintained,” she said. “But it’s kind of ambiguous.”
Some audience members disagreed that the policy was clear, and suggested language be altered to be more accessible to students.
An audience member said faculty members received an email notifying them when the policy requirements were implemented and asked whether students had received the same email.
“I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that,” Shearer said.
A second open community meeting will be held on Oct. 23 from 10 to 11 a.m. in Robert Sutherland Hall, room 202.
Anyone seeking immediate support following sexual violence can call the Sexual Assault Centre’s 24 hour crisis line at 1-877-544-6424.
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