This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Centre’s online chat feature can be reached here. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
Queen’s must address all concerns about sexual violence thoroughly.
Kate Rocklein, Queen’s University nursing professor, was dismissed as associate director of undergraduate studies in the School of Nursing and suspended from teaching. Rocklein alleges her dismissal and suspension were in response to her warning students about the risk of sexual violence in university communities, particularly for nursing students.
Posters supporting Rocklein’s allegation about her dismissal soon appeared around campus.
The University can’t publicly comment on personnel and human resource matters, but private correspondence between Rocklein and her superiors that Rocklein shared with the Globe and Mail said her skillset didn’t align with the demands of her administrative role and she made students feel unsafe.
Even if Rocklein was making her students uncomfortable, it seems unlikely that alone would be grounds for suspension—many professors have perpetuated harm in class without facing suspension.
A health studies professor who taught anti-vaccination misinformation and has had student complaints levelled against her since 2011 still has an active profile today on the faculty website.
Queen’s nursing students have recounted negative experiences rooted in their program. The Instagram page @queensunursingalum is dedicated to sharing the traumatic experiences of present-day nursing students and alumni.
This public record of nursing students’ mistreatment could make the University eager to respond to students’ discomfort, or sensitive to further negative accusations against the nursing program.
Although the University can’t comment on Professor Rocklein’s employment status, it could address her concerns about sexual violence in the Queen’s community.
While there’s no data supporting Rocklein’s claim nursing students are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, the University’s failure to properly comment on just the allegation of violence evinces a level of complacency towards sexual violence, as well as to the endangerment of nursing students.
Though most professors want the best for their students, it isn’t their responsibility to inform their classes about sexual violence. Professor Rocklein’s feeling she had to supplement existing sexual violence education points to pervasive gaps in the University’s own engagement with the topic.
Informing students without scaring them keeps them safer, forewarned is forearmed. Open conversations about sexual violence can legitimize the experience of survivors to encourage them to report their assaults or to make them feel less ashamed.
Queen’s has educational programs to support the prevention of sexual violence, including the online learning program “It Takes All of Us.” Such programs mean little without active engagement with all concerns of sexual violence.
Conducting a thorough, publicly transparent investigation into Rocklein’s claims would best demonstrate the University’s dedication to the prevention of sexual violence and the protection of its nursing students.
Treating Professor Rocklein’s concerns merely as a part of a personnel dispute detracts from the very real risks of sexual violence and necessary advocacy against it at Queen’s.
—Journal Editorial Board
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