Provost acknowledges failure on sexual violence policy consultations

Community to hear consultation summary by end of November

Tom Harris, interim provost and vice-principal (Academic), acknowledged lack of sexual violence policy consultations was a failure at Oct. 29 Senate.

At a Senate meeting on Tuesday, Tom Harris, interim provost and vice-principal (Academic), took responsibility for what he called a “failed” consultation process on Queen’s controversial new sexual violence policy.

During his report to Senate, Harris addressed the controversy over the requirement that non-health care professionals at Queen’s who receive a disclosure of sexual violence must provide the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator (SVPRC) with a student’s name, email address, and student number.

Following criticism from professors, students, and staff, the requirement was suspended on Oct. 10.

Additionally, the online disclosure form University employees were required to use when submitting student information has been closed. For now, identifying information will be shared with the student’s consent only, according to Harris.

“It became clear there was a desire among many in the Queen’s community to reopen conversations,” Harris said.

In his report, Harris emphasized the University’s commitment to have consultations with students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders during the suspension. He cited Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion) Teri Shearer’s open committee meetings, held Oct. 17 and 23.

Harris said individuals who didn’t attend one of the open community meetings or don’t wish to voice concerns in a public forum can provide feedback online confidentially. He also reported he has received emails from various faculty members with their views on the policy.

All of these viewpoints will go towards the policy’s revision, according to Harris.

“The Principal is committed, and after [November] 22, when we have received all information, we will provide a summary to the community of what we’ve heard. We are still contemplating what the next step will be,” Harris said.

Student Senate Caucus Chair David Niddam-Dent raised concerns about how this period of consultation might differ with the consultations held before the initial publication of the policy.

“This is a policy that [was] passed [by] the Board of Trustees,” Niddam-Dent said. “We’re now past the point where the policy was in place and we’re still having these conversations.”

Niddam-Dent highlighted that initial consultations included testimonies from survivors of sexual assault, who he said were against the changes to the policy, which was still approved by the Board in May.

“To me, that means in the period when this policy was developed and passed [by] the Board of Trustees, the relevant voices were not heard well enough to ensure a policy that addresses the needs of the students was created,” Niddam-Dent said.

He asked Harris what the University plans to do differently this time, and in the future, when developing policies surrounding student safety.

“Are there plans or measures in place to ensure the relevant student voices are heard so we don’t have to reopen this conversation again, and the first time a policy goes forward, we can get it right?” Niddam-Dent said.

Harris responded by admitting there are flaws in the process.

“We failed, and I take responsibility,” Harris said. “Where we failed was in realizing individuals across the community are very busy, and sending an email out is not an effective form of communication. I would describe this as a failure on our part to engage the community in a meaningful way.”

Before moving on to the rest of his report, senators also expressed concern about how much attention Shearer can give the policy’s revisions now that she is interim dean of the Smith School of Business.

Harris said a number of Shearer’s duties have been temporarily reassigned.

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