Former BISC students discuss incidents of sexual misconduct

Admin response and clear policy at satellite campus lacking, students say

The Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle in England, which has been owned and operated by Queen’s since 1994.

Every year, over 5,000 km away from Queen’s main campus in Herstmonceux, England, more than a hundred first year students begin their studies at Queen’s Bader International Study Center (BISC) with the same excitement as any first year students. During the 2014-15 academic year, however, the first two months alone would offer a very different experience. 

“Plenty of people were terrified to go anywhere alone,” Bryan Cuypers, 2014-15 BISC student-council president, recalled of his term two years ago. “It brought up a sense of fear among the students — essentially every girl, and even some of the guys.” 

Throughout those first two months rumors circulated around the BISC of various incidents of sexual misconduct. Faculty and supervisors had been informed, public forums and workshops were held and yet, for those directly affected, the administrative response was inadequate.

The Journal spoke to three female students who reported instances of sexual assault and harassment that year, along with student leaders and Queen’s administration, to document the reporting of and responses to sexual violence at Queen’s satellite campus.

The names of the three female students have been changed in this story to protect their identities. Due to the sensitive nature of their experiences, each chose to describe their cases in writing for The Journal, and later answered any follow-up questions for clarity.

The incidents involving Alex and Rachel arose within weeks of each other, leading up to the most severe instance with Diana on Oct. 31.

Approximately one month into the year, Alex reported that she was sexually harassed within the BISC residence building.

“While I was hooking up with a guy I got my period unexpectedly, my period blood got onto the pillowcase,” she wrote. “We stopped what we were doing and I got up to leave. I tried to take the pillow case with me but he wouldn’t let me leave unless I left it with him.”

Over the next week, she was informed that the pillowcase had been hung in the men’s bathroom after also being brought into the common room. “The pillowcase became known as the ‘Japanese Flag’,” she wrote.

For Rachel, her experience began on the first night of the academic year. With a group of new students, she went down to the campus pub, where, due to the lowered drinking age in England, most first-year students were legally served alcohol by the campus establishment. 

“We were terrified to be there and desperate to form some kind of connection between each other. I remember being so nervous, and drinking as quickly as possible to take the edge off,” she wrote. 

Speaking with a first-year male student she just met, she recalls “clumsy flirting” and pleasant conversation, until the male student reached over and groped her. After informing him that she wasn’t okay with what he did, the male student apologized and Rachel left the situation. However, later that night outside the pub, the male student repeated the same action. 

“This time, due to my steadily rising drunkenness and extremely thin patience with this sort of thing, I burst into tears and yelled at him,” Rachel wrote. Following the incident outside the pub, another male student approached the two and told the first male student that Rachel “just wasn’t drunk enough for that yet”. 

Both Rachel and Alex approached the residence Student Life Coordinators (SLC) — hired staff who serve a similar role as a Residence Don — the night of their incidents and in each case said they were asked by staff what they wanted to be done in response. 

“I had no idea what to ask for,” Rachel wrote. “Not to mention, wasn’t there a guideline for dealing with this? Some sort of code of conduct with consequences? I just asked that he apologize for it.” 

Days later, Rachel was informed the male student had apologized, and that was the last she heard of it. In Alex’s case, she said the SLCs were very supportive. “I wanted this boy to be sent home, but I wasn’t sure if that was even a possibility. I did know, however, that I wanted an apology.” 

A meeting was arranged between the two heads of Student Services with the male student and Alex, where she read him a letter about the serious impact the incident had on her. 

“That meeting ended with me not feeling any better about the situation, as he didn’t accept any blame and didn’t apologize for his part in anything. He stated that he was sorry I was upset and that it happened but it wasn’t his fault and he wouldn’t say whose fault it was.” 

After the meeting, the incident was taken to a disciplinary body at the BISC, consisting of many of her professors and some fellow students. “It was extremely uncomfortable,” she recalled, “I felt like I had to justify why I was upset and why I wanted something to be done.”

A month after finding out about the pillowcase, she said she received an email apology from the male student. Her last name, she recalled, was spelt incorrectly.

“Nothing I had put myself through even mattered because he didn’t even feel bad enough to know who it was that he hurt. This was all that I found out about the punishment that was administered,” she wrote. 

Since the incidents occurred, a new sexual violence policy and student code of conduct have been implemented
university-wide. However, with the BISC thousands of kilometers away from Queen’s main campus, the disciplinary sanctions for sexual violence are unclear.  

Within the University’s new Non-Academic Misconduct (NAM) policy — which was formalized this year and outlines responses for students infringing on the Student Code of Conduct — five units tasked with the oversight and implementation of discipline are specified: the AMS, the SGPS, Athletics and Recreation, Residences and the Student Conduct Office. None of these units exist at the BISC.

Similarly, within the University’s new Sexual Violence Response and Prevention Policy — which was formally instated in March of 2016 — there’s no explicit mention of the BISC.

For those on Queen’s main campus, the policy directs those reporting sexual misconduct to the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator — a position created this year that operates out of Kingston.

Queen’s Communications supplied The Journal with a link to the BISC Policies and Regulations, which lays out general rules and disciplinary processes. 

The Student Conduct Process is divided into levels of severity, from one to three. For level one and two incidents, the Assistant Student and Enrolment Services Manager is assigned responsibility for gathering information about the incident and assigning a sanction.

For level three offenses, the responsibility is on the the Student and Enrolment Services Manager to investigate and may refer the case to the BISC’s Non Academic Discipline Committee “depending on the nature of the case”, as it states. 

“The Student and Enrolment Services Manager and the BISC Management reserve the right to take immediate action to ensure the safety, security and well-being of all residents. This may include a temporary loss or restriction of privileges,” the policy reads.

No mention of sexual violence is made under any of the three levels within the policy. “Inappropriate behaviour” is listed under level three, as “behaviour that is discriminatory and/or harassing as set out in the University’s Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure; also included is any form of personal harassment or behaviour that is retaliatory in nature.”

The most severe sanction listed in the policy is the removal from residence, which “will necessarily result in the student being required to withdraw from their program at the BISC,” the policy reads.

In an email to The Journal, Provost Benoit-Antoine Bacon wrote that “Queen’s takes the issue of sexual violence extremely seriously and has policies in place to respond to allegations of sexual violence.”

“As an integral part of Queen’s University, the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) also has such policies.”

Bacon declined to speak on the specific cases, citing reasons of privacy. He explained that the process at the BISC and the process on main campus are both survivor-focused. 

“Options regarding how to proceed after an alleged incident of sexual violence are discussed with the survivor, and support personnel at the BISC work with the survivor as the chosen process is followed.”

“The university is currently finalizing its revised and updated Sexual Violence Policy. Once the new policy is in place, we will ensure that the BISC policy remains aligned with main campus, while taking into account institutional and jurisdictional differences.” 

He directed students wishing to seek support to contact the main campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, Barb Lotan. At the BISC, he said that students can seek counselling services or speak with the Student Services staff.

In a resource document for BISC students currently posted on the BISC website, individuals who experienced sexual assault are directed to call the Saturn Sexual Assault Referral Centre, an hour’s drive from the BISC or a 3-hour train journey. 

Back in 2014 at the BISC, however, after some of the older students on-campus heard of some of the issues that had been going on among first years, an upper-year student named Peter Green decided to approach the situation head-on with Student Services.

In an email to The Journal recalling his steps, Green said he relayed his concerns to the Student Life Coordinators, who requested that Green develop a seminar on healthy relationships and consent. 

The Oct. 4, 2014 seminar was attended by every male student as well as nearly every female student, according to Green. “To the best of my knowledge, the sexual harassment stopped immediately with a decisive and predominantly held definition of consent,” he said. 

“However, one individual allegedly persisted to exhibit a pattern of behaviour consistent with sexual assault.” 

On Oct. 31, students at the BISC collectively took to social media and called for administration to take action. That night, the same male student who harassed Rachel at the beginning of the year made a sexual advance on Diana, she wrote to The Journal. 

He approached Diana’s residence room, appearing to be intoxicated. After Diana told the male student that she wasn’t interested in his advances, she said he aggressively forced his way into her dorm room. He informed her they were going to have sex and began to violently force himself on her.

Students on Diana’s residence floor heard the violent altercation, intervened and lead her to the Student Life Coordinators. 

She recalls sobbing through the conversation, unable to properly explain to the SLCs what had just happened to her. Seeing the SLC’s immediately serious response, she wrote that “all of a sudden, the gravity of my situation set in. This behaviour exhibited by that student was sexual assault.” 

A week later, the same SLC contacted Diana, telling her that staff were discussing an appropriate response. She recalls being told they “wished that there was more that could be done”, but for the time being she “had to sit tight,” Diana wrote.

“I still didn’t understand fully what was going on, all I know was I felt sick to my stomach at the thought that me and my fellow students were not safe.” 

Alex affirmed this feeling, saying it was shared by many of the female students that year, who would often talk about the situations arising in residence.

“You know that the professor at the front of the class knows and you know that the SLC that passed you in the hall on your way to class knows,” Alex wrote. “You know that every person who has any power at the BISC knows that this man, if not stopped, would rape a girl.”

“And he’s still sitting behind you. He’s still going around to the pub at night. He’s still getting drunk in the residence, and there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone is doing to stop him.” 

Over the next month, Diana attended several meetings with members of the BISC staff, “re-telling my story over and over again and lots and lots of tears. Word traveled fast.”

Like Rachel and Alex, Diana said she was asked what she wanted to be done in response. “My 17 year old, fresh out of high school, living on my own for the first time, brain could only think of one response. I just want it all to go away.”

She was given the option of an academic trial, which would’ve required her to speak in front of her professors and peers, or to come up with her own punishment. 

“I was scared and felt completely unqualified to be making that kind of a decision,” she recalls telling the staff members handling her case.  

Meanwhile, meetings addressing sexual violence were held separately for all male and female students, with only the former being mandatory, the students said.

“Many of the guys at the meeting brushed off every word that was said, but many of us did not.  There was another, less formal, meeting for anybody that wished to go, and most of the guys that were unsympathetic at the boys’ meeting did not go,” then-student council president, Bryan Cuypers told The Journal. 

“Beyond the week of the incidents itself, there was very little visible punishment ... the news of the events spread like wildfire in the tiny campus.” 

Overall, he said that Student Services tried to assign appropriate punishments, “but because they were so insistent on protecting the privacy of the instigators, it only seemed to deepen the problem on the campus ... even those that had little understanding of the events were nervous, and the staff seldom addressed it.” 

In the end, the Head of Student Services required that the male student write an essay on respecting women and be given an alcohol ban. 

“Which most definitely was not enforced,” Diana said. The male student stayed at the BISC for the remainder of the year and by Diana’s account, he broke the ban and continued to drink in residence throughout that time. 

“My hope is that the BISC can learn from this and provide a protocol for these types of situations. Something needs to go in place so other 17-18 year olds spending their first year away from home in a foreign country aren’t responsible for taking on what should have been the job of the BISC administrators.” 

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