UPDATED: Reports of sexual harassment, verbal abuse in Political Studies

Students in the Department of Political Studies received a mass email Wednesday addressing reports of sexual harassment

Graphic by Jacob Rosen

This article is an updated version of a previously published article from Nov. 26.

After almost a year of silence, reported incidents of verbal, physical and sexual harassment of teaching assistants (TAs) by undergraduate students in Political Studies have been revealed to students.

On Wednesday afternoon, DSC Co-Presidents Cameron McNeill and Connor Casciato emailed undergraduate students in the Department of Political Studies about reports of “credential questioning, verbal abuse, physical intimidation and sexual harassment” of TAs. 

“To put it in the clearest possible terms: as both human beings and students at Queen’s University, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” the co-presidents stated in the email.

According to Rachel Tung, one of the second-year Departmental Student Council (DSC) representatives for Political Studies, the email circulated by DSC co-presidents refers to incidents that took place over the past year. Tung said she sits on the Political Studies Equity Issues Committee, which was informed of the incidents before the department became aware of them.

Multiple incidents of “verbal, physical, and sexual harassment … in tutorials and office hours, for both male and female TA’s [sic]” were brought to the Political Studies Graduate Students Association (PSGSA) last year, she told The Journal via Facebook Messenger. 

“The altercations have had an especially adverse effect on more petite female TAs who can more easily be physically overpowered by a larger aggressive student,” Tung, ArtSci ’18, wrote.

When the issues were brought to the department, she said a meeting was immediately called so the Equity Issues Committee could discuss the incidents and provide recommendations. 

Knowledge of the incidents was only brought to the attention of the department at the most recent departmental meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Four recommendations have since been made by the Equity Issues Committee, Tung said.

First, a January 2016 TA workshop will be held to address the issues and provide guidance for handling similar situations. 

Second, the department will add another “developed session” focusing on the issue during mandatory TA training in September.

Third, the committee recommended that Queen’s add a session in undergraduate orientation activities on professional conduct, respect and sexism.

The final recommendation was to add a paragraph on Politics syllabi — developed together with the PSGSA — discussing professional student conduct and respect.

Tung said the recommendations were well-received at the departmental meeting and are in the process of being brought to “other bodies” for implementation.

For Co-President McNeill, ArtSci ’16, the reports came as a surprise.

“It was news to all of us that this was going on. We were all surprised and that email yesterday was sort of the first step,” he told The Journal in an interview.

McNeill said because the details of the incidents weren’t discussed in full at the meeting, he couldn’t elaborate on them beyond what was mentioned in the email.

“As to what Rachel said, I'm not sure. It was brought to the Department last week, and that was the first that the people in the room had heard of it,” McNeill told The Journal via Facebook Messenger after Rachel Tung provided a statement.

McNeill met with Political Studies Department Head David Haglund on Thursday morning to discuss how to address concerns moving forward.

“The next step, I think, will be figuring out what has been going on in a more specific sense [in] the classes and communicating with the TAs on how we can best prevent this from happening in the future,” McNeill said.

In their email addressed to students, the co-presidents McNeill and Casciato wrote that while they’ll discuss options with the department, it’s the responsibility of students to behave “in a way that is acceptable in an institution like Queen’s”.

“We recognize that the actions of the very small minority are not representative of the generally remarkable group of students we have in this Department,” the email continued.

Casciato, ArtSci ’16, was appointed as co-president of the Political Studies DSC last Thursday, Nov. 19 — after the departmental meeting on Nov. 18 — to replace Jon Wiseman. Wiseman left the position to join the AMS as commissioner of internal affairs on Nov. 11.

Susan Mumm, the dean of Arts and Science, said the University has no tolerance for any type of harassment or intimidation.

“Queen’s does not tolerate any form of harassment. We find these allegations very troubling, and will be looking into the issues raised,” she wrote in an email to The Journal.

“Queen’s has policies in place that prohibit harassment and discrimination, and there are a number of resources available to those who may have experienced harassment.”

She added that the University is committed to safe and appropriate work environments for all employees.

“Employees can discuss their concerns with their employment supervisor if they believe they have been subjected to harassment in the workplace.”

— With files from Mikayla Wronko

Full email:

To Our Political Studies Undergraduates,

At the most recent Departmental meeting, some very disturbing revelations were brought to our attention, and we felt that this was the most appropriate avenue by which to address them. There have been a number of recent reports from our Teaching Assistants of credential questioning, verbal abuse, physical intimidation and sexual harassment on the part of Political Studies students. To put it in the clearest possible terms: as both human beings and students at Queen's University, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

As the leaders of tomorrow, it is, to be quite honest, remarkably disheartening to hear that students in our Department have treated their peers, who volunteer their time and were in our shoes a couple of years ago, in a manner that is so unbecoming of the reputation that our Department has forged over the past 120 years.

As your representatives at the Departmental level, we will be working with our professors and TAs to mitigate the risk of similar problems in the future. However, the responsibility ultimately falls to you, the student, to act in a way that is acceptable at an institution like Queen's. We recognize that the actions of the very small minority are not representative of the generally remarkable group of students we have in this Department, so we hope you will join us in coming together to ensure that these issues don't have to be raised again.

Best of luck with your term papers and exams.

Cameron and Connor

Update from DSC

Political Studies DSC co-president Cameron McNeill sent the following statement to The Journal after correspondence with the Political Studies Graduate Student Association about the email:

 "It was recently brought to my attention that the wording surrounding the role of our Teaching Assistants in my previous email could be seen as misrepresenting the very important positions they hold as contracted teachers at this University. While we are all members of the same Department, and they often volunteer time that is above and beyond what they are expected to commit, they are not, in a literal sense, either peers or volunteers, and should be treated with respect as instructors in a position of authority. With that clarified, I look forward to working with the Political Studies Graduate Students Association (PSGSA) on dealing with the troubling issues that formed the basis of my original email."


November 27, 2015

This article has been altered to make the following corrections:

The roles of the Department of Political Studies and the Departmental Student Council (DSC) were unclear in the original article. The issues were brought to a Departmental Meeting, not to the DSC, and the Equity Issues Committee was aware of it before the Department, not before the DSC. 

Rachel is one of the two second-year representatives for the Political Studies DSC, not the representative for the Political Studies DSC.

Unclear information appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Journal.

The Journal regrets the error.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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