Queen’s International Affairs Association saw three high-level terminations for sexual harassment last year

Former Core Executives detail prominence of sexual harassment in one of Queen’s largest clubs

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Illustration by Amelia Rankine

 This article talks about sexual harassment and may be triggering for some readers.

According to several former Queen’s International Affairs Association (QIAA) Core Executives, the club experienced three terminations based on allegations of sexual harassment in 2016-2017. 

Over the course of multiple interviews, the former Core Executives told The Journal the terminations occurred following “patterns of behavior” which were brought to their attention by other members of the club. The former Core Executives spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the identities of the victims and the subjects of the allegations.

During the 2016-17 academic school year, two of the cases were brought forward to the AMS Clubs Human Resources Coordinator and the club’s leadership. One case however, was appealed through Non-Academic Misconduct (NAM). All three cases resulted in terminations and club-wide bans.

As defined by the Queen’s University Policy on Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students, sexual harassment is referred to as “a course of unwanted remarks, behaviours, or communications of a sexual nature and/or a course of unwanted remarks, behaviours or communications based on gender — where the person responsible for the remarks, behaviours or communications knows or ought reasonably to know that these are unwanted.”

The allegations in each case were different and varied in intensity from making inappropriate comments to incidents involving alcohol and more sexually suggestive behaviour. No allegations of sexual assault were made. 

With over 250 members across the organization’s dozens of committees and initiatives, QIAA is one of the largest clubs at Queen’s.

Several former QIAA Core Executives told The Journal these allegations of harassment were related to events in Kingston as well as in one case abroad at a conference.

Despite these allegations being focused at events, the former Core Executives said the club’s experience with sexual harassment goes beyond the terminations and may represent a more systemic issue. 

For example, one former Core Executive said many women in the club could either relate an event they had personally experienced involving harassment or had heard of allegations from others.

***

One case, described by a former Core Executive, involved an individual who was terminated from the Club in the fall of 2016 after complaints were made to both the AMS Clubs Human Resources and the club’s leadership.

According to a former Core Executive, one of these incidents occurred after a club social event. Following the event, former Core Executives who spoke to The Journal said they made a “concerted effort” to walk everyone home. During this time, they “noticed that a certain young woman was gone.” 

 

“It turns out that she had gone to a member’s house. The door was closed and she was trying to find a way to get out of the member’s room,” one former Core Executive alleged.

 

It wasn’t until former club staff “went to the house” and left with her to walk her home that this incident was concluded. After the incident, the former staff said they didn’t know what to do. There was no allegation of any inappropriate physical contact.

The former Core Executive also told The Journal this wasn’t the only situation in which the accused made others in the club feel uncomfortable. 

An earlier incident involving the same individual occurred in the fall of 2016. The individual is alleged to have made a derogatory sexual comment about another executive member at a social event. Coupled with the event mentioned earlier, the individual’s case was brought to the executive’s attention.

Moreover, according to former Core Executives, there were allegedly other reports of similar offensive comments being made “about members that were hired (and) other executive members.” “We had to just deal with it,” they said, referring to the terminated individual’s behaviour.

Despite being dismissed, an email provided to The Journal by a former Core Executive shows a complaint lodged with the AMS Clubs Human Resources Coordinator involving the terminated individual attending a QIAA conference as a delegate during the Winter term in 2017. 

The former Core Executive said, “given that [they] still had a QIAA-wide ban at that point, in my opinion it was not something [they] should have been able to do.”

***

Another case occurred in the fall of 2016, after an individual was terminated for “acting inappropriately with several women by asking them on dates repeatedly, making targeted comments while at a conference and belligerent behaviour while at an external conference.”

The decision to remove this individual from the club came following discussion amongst the QIAA’s leadership and the Core Executives. 

***

The third termination was vigorously opposed by the individual who appealed their termination from the club to the University’s NAM Committee. In a statement to The Journal, the individual claimed to have done nothing wrong and categorically denies the allegations against themself.  

According to those in the executive who dealt with the termination, a number of reports were brought forward alleging the making of repetitive, demeaning and sexist comments about a number of women from September to November of 2016. 

According to a former Core Executive, the individual’s actions included “actively trying to be sexist in meetings (and) actively trying to make the females in the meeting uncomfortable.”

It wasn’t until after the club’s elections took place in March of 2017 that a number of the allegations began to surface. After consultations with the AMS Clubs Human Resources Coordinator, a decision was made to terminate the individual from the club’s leadership and to ban them from QIAA.

Despite the club-wide ban, a number of former Core Executives told The Journal this individual has attended official QIAA socials this year. A former Core Executive said in an interview, “to this day, [they] still shows up to events.”

 

“[They were] at the General Member Homecoming Social; [they’re] in pictures. [They were] removed from the club in an official capacity and that should be respected,” the former Core Executive member continued.

 

When asked why the individual had been allowed to attend an official QIAA social this year, the current 2017-2018 QIAA President Jonathan Salna said “[they] likely shouldn’t have been at that social.”

However, recently one former Core Executive told The Journal the ban on social events had been lifted by club leadership. In addition, according to other former Core Executives, current members of the club have voiced dissatisfaction with how leadership was consulted about that decision.  

 

In response, Salna said the decision wasn’t made by himself. “This was a decision by leadership after the entire first semester of looking into this … It wasn’t a decision I made lightly in any respect.” 

 

Salna stressed that the individual still isn’t allowed to return to their former team. “[They’re] not being allowed to attend meetings as an attendee or an observer,” he remarked. “[They] aren’t banned from QIAA events; [they] are allowed to attend as a general participant,” Salna continued.

In an interview, a former executive said they “completely and utterly disagreed” with the decision to lift the club-wide ban. “[QIAA leadership] had the full support of the Clubs Office last year,” when this individual was dismissed. 

When asked about the case, Salna stated he “wasn’t comfortable” with enforcing a club-wide ban. He said the ban “seemed to be enforced on shaky grounds without any sort of appeal or investigative process whatsoever.”

In his opinion, Salna said the individual’s initial dismissal was illegitimate. “The way that [their] case was publicized through, essentially unofficial channels, through chats and what not. This very vitriolic rhetoric used about [them],” he said.

When describing the nature of the complaints, Salna said they were “concerning, sure, but I don’t think they necessitated a cause for dismissal.” 

 

Reflecting on the case, Salna said, “I saw [them] doing something that should be reprimanded, sure, saying something very stupid, very inappropriate, but I don’t think that it necessitated the response that [they] got.”

When contacted for comment about the allegations, the individual told The Journal “following an investigation by the Club Executive I was cleared of wrongdoing and fully reinstated in QIAA.” 

***

Last year, in response to issues of sexual harassment, former QIAA leadership moved to amend the club’s constitution to establish a sexual harassment and assault policy. The changes were ratified by last year’s outgoing executive following the election for the 2017-2018 incoming executive team.

One former Core Executive, who worked on the policy change, said Bystander Intervention training was made mandatory “for every single team member, executive member, every person in the club,” or members aren’t allowed to attend conferences or events.

Though the club shifted its own policy, former Core Executives expressed dissatisfaction with current AMS policy. “Why is there no AMS clubs policies to back us up when there is a year of harassment and actual cases where people were removed?” one Core Executive asked. “There is no sexual assault policy for clubs” at large.

Clubs are ratified by the AMS, but operate autonomously under their own constitutions and are free to make any personnel decisions they want. Given the AMS’s role in ratification, the question has therefore been raised as to whether the society should be out front in a leadership role on this issue. 

Currently, the AMS only provides a referral role to official reporting services to assist clubs in dealing with complaints.

For two of last year’s terminations, Core Executives and club leadership relied heavily on the AMS Clubs Human Resources Coordinator for consultation and advice when making personnel decisions. In addition, on several occasions, complaints were submitted directly to the Clubs Human Resources Coordinator.

Despite this, AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Palmer Lockridge insisted in an interview that “the Clubs Human Resources Coordinator would have only been involved in any situation as a resource, such as referring a student to support on campus, or reviewing with clubs potential steps to take moving forwards.” 

“In all cases, clubs maintain their autonomy and make their decisions through the processes established through their club constitution and policy,” Lockridge remarked.

The position of AMS clubs Human Resources Coordinator was “transitioned” to the Clubs Logistics Deputy at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year.

Lockridge told The Journal in an interview that “the title of Logistics Deputy more accurately reflects the fact that we only refer clubs to resources and are not involved in the independent decision making process of clubs.”

 

“[T]he AMS is not the body that is responsible or able to investigate or make determinations around issues of sexual violence or sexual harassment,” Lockridge explained. “What our goal should always be is to try to get those students to professional supports and professional reporting mechanisms.” 

 

However, former Core Executives explained they felt ill-equipped and lacked enough training to handle disclosures of sexual harassment or assault. 

“It was very draining to have to hear that these things were happening,” one Core Executive said. “You feel like you failed in some way in your leadership position because you didn’t see these things going on,” they continued. “Being in a position of leadership and not seeing those things, it affects you personally.”

The same Core Executive stressed though the club mandates Bystander Intervention training for all members, there’s “not enough education” for those in leadership roles on how to deal with disclosures of sexual harassment and assault. 

“It is something that happens more than you think,” they said.

“When you first receive a disclosure from someone, your initial reaction has a huge impact on that person. You don’t know what to do in that situation, you don’t know what the options are,” they said. “If there were a free or low cost [disclosure training] option for directors of clubs and people on club executives to do, I think it would go a long way,” they added.

***

One former Core Executive explained that issues of sexual harassment in QIAA and in clubs at Queen’s go beyond the cases described. 

Former Core Executives expressed that “multiple” people didn’t return to the club this year because of past issues surrounding sexual harassment. 

All Core Executives who spoke to The Journal expressed a similar sentiment about sexual harassment in clubs on campus.

“It’s just something that is swept under the rug because there is nothing to protect the girls that are trying to speak out against it,” they said.

 

Editor’s Note

Although our sources were able to identify the three people terminated from QIAA based on allegations of sexual harassment, we have decided not to name them in this article. 

This wasn’t a decision that was made lightly. We want to make it clear to our readership that we didn’t come to this decision with intentions to ignore the very real stories which were brought to us. Rather, we want to focus on shedding light on the reality that sexual violence is a very serious problem in our society and on Queen’s campus. 

During our time as members at The Journal and as students on campus, we’ve witnessed how student leaders and other members of the Queen’s community have worked to ensure victims andsurvivors are supported. 

As student journalists, we need to ensure we handle all cases of sexual violence with the agency of the survivor in mind. If naming individuals causes them more harm, we will not do it.  

Sexual violence has been and remains an issue at Queen’s University. In recent months, our society has seen a great deal of momentum on the path towards accountability. As a paper that seeks to represent its readership, we try our very best to amplify the voices of all students at Queen’s. We commend every individual who has come forward to tell their story, to help break down barriers and place light on this systemic issue. 

In doing this, we have always tried to leave the agency of the story with the survivor/victim. Their stories have shown us the undeniable resiliency of many of our peers. But most of all, they have shown us that the path towards justice is different for every survivor/victim of sexual violence. With this in mind, we have decided not to publish the names of those individuals accused of sexual harassment.

Although our term is ending soon, our paper will continue to publish stories about sexual violence and ensure that we support survivors and victims to the best of our ability. As a small team, we appreciate any information or assistance the community is willing to provide.

Sincerely,

Joseph Cattana and Meg Glover

Editor in Chief and Managing Editor 

We would like to close this statement by directing all students who are affected by this issue to the Peer Support Centre that is available from 12-10 p.m., 7 days a week in JDUC room 034. You may also contact Barb Lotan, the Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Coordinator at bjl7@queensu.ca.

 

Corrections

April 1, 2018

Changes were made to more clearly indicate that Jonathan Salna is the current 2017-2018 QIAA President, clarifying that he wasn’t the President when the three terminations happened.

The Journal regrets the error.

April 1, 2018

Changes were also made to reflect that current club members have voiced dissatisfaction with how the decision to lift a terminated member’s club-wide ban was made, rather than stating they were not consulted.

The Journal regrets the error.

April 1, 2018

Changes were made to more clearly indicate that policy changes to QIAA’s constitution were ratified by former leadership not current leadership.

The Journal regrets the error.

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