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

Image supplied by: 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


harassment, political studies, sexual harassment

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