Second open meeting on sexual violence policy sees increased attendance

University to release final decision on suspended reporting requirements at end of winter term

Shearer said the University will release a decision about the sexual violence policy at end of the school year
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

When the University hosted its first open consultation meeting about Queen’s sexual violence policy on Oct. 17, only a handful of people attended. At its second meeting on Oct. 23, the room was full.

Over the summer, the University introduced a new requirement that required Queen’s employees who are not health care professionals to report a student’s name, email address, and student number to the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator (SVPRC) in the event of a sexual violence disclosure.

Following widespread criticism from both professors and Senate members, the University suspended the disclosure requirements on Oct. 10 and asked the Queen’s community to provide feedback about the sexual violence policy at two open community meetings on Oct. 17 and 23.

Hosted by Teri Shearer, deputy provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion), the second open community meeting saw a significant increase in attendance.

Shearer opened the meeting by saying the University, while maintaining confidentiality, would make compiled feedback from the two meetings public, along with written statements sent to the University. At the first meeting, an audience member asked whether any record of feedback from the two meetings would be made available to the wider Queen’s community.

“I can promise you whatever the next steps will be, they’re not likely to be a unilateral decision,” Shearer said. “It’s likely to go back to the individuals involved and the individuals who work with these issues on a day-to-day basis to try to decide where to move on this policy.”

Samantha King, head of the department of Gender Studies, asked Shearer to clarify what’s expected of professors during the requirement’s suspension.

Shearer said the University is still encouraging university employees to report a sexual violence disclosure to the SVPRC, but to only include the survivor’s name and email address if they’ve been given permission to do so.

“We have, at the moment, [changed] the ‘must report a disclosure’ to ‘should report a disclosure,’” Shearer said. She added this will still allow the SVPRC to reach out to the faculty member who received the disclosure with resources that person can share with the survivor.

“A really big [reason], as I understand it, for trying to make this revision was that students do fall through the cracks. They disclose to someone who’s ill-equipped to give them good advice and direction to resources,” Shearer said.

A faculty member from the Film and Media department said she personally refused to comply with the disclosure requirement, even before it was placed under suspension. The same faculty member asked Shearer what disciplinary measures would be taken toward University employees who refuse to share a student’s identification with the SVPRC in the event of a sexual violence disclosure.

Shearer responded by saying that before the requirement’s suspension, the online reporting portal employees were required to use had a notification system that informed the SVPRC of a potential risk when contacting someone.

“If you don’t comply, then we’re not likely to know that,” Shearer said. “We’re not likely to know that until, and if, at some point down the road, the student comes back and feels they were not adequately supported after having made a disclosure to the University. At that point, I don’t have the slightest bit of notion whether, as an individual faculty member, you might also face legal [ramifications].”

Physics professor Jordan Morelli suggested the University provide employees with a resource guide to give students in the event of a sexual violence disclosure.

Shearer responded by saying there is a purple folder provided by the SVPRC  that details supports available to survivors of sexual assault.

“My understanding is that they were just about to be reprinted, but that was put on hold temporarily while we sorted out where exactly we’re going to land on this,” Shearer said. “I agree, it needs to be redistributed on a wide basis.”

Many staff members in the audience also suggested the University provide them with more education and training in how to respond to a sexual violence disclosure.

There were also several survivors of sexual violence in the audience who shared personal testimonies to demonstrate how disclosure requirements negatively impact survivors. Overwhelmingly, they reiterated these requirements take away a survivor’s power in a situation where they say they’ve already lost it.

One student in the audience questioned whether the disclosure requirements were designed to help survivors or to protect the University from liability.

“The overriding purpose of the policy was to keep students from falling through the cracks,” Shearer said. “I also think it’s important to remember that Queen’s is a large institution. We can weather some lawsuits, all large institutions will.”

She added the real issue isn’t liability, but that the University can fail to support students who need support. “If you don’t let the students fall through the cracks, then you don’t have to worry about liability,” Shearer said.

Another student said that when it comes to student disclosures, one sexual violence prevention and response coordinator isn’t enough.

She said because sexual violence disproportionately affects minority groups, the University should accommodate individuals who would feel more comfortable disclosing sexual violence to a person of colour.

In an email to The Journal, Shearer said by Nov. 1, all students, faculty, and staff will have received an email inviting them to submit written confidential comments about the revised sexual violence policy to the University. The consultation period will close on Nov. 22.

“By November 1, we will post a brief summary of the comments made at the two recent community meetings,” Shearer wrote, including the link where the summary would be posted. “There are no further meetings planned at this stage of the review.”

Shearer also confirmed to The Journal she has presented a summary of the concerns expressed at the two open community meetings to the University’s senior leadership team.

She said after the written consultation period ends on Nov. 22, she will present to the senior leadership team a second time, at which point, the team will decide how to proceed.

“Any proposed revisions to the Policy or procedures will be made available for community review and consultation in the winter term,” Shearer wrote. “We anticipate that a final decision about how to proceed will be made by the end of the winter term, and we will inform everyone in the university community by email of the outcome of the review.”

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