WARNING: This article contains sexual and explicit language and may be triggering for some readers. Discretion is advised.
On Thursday afternoon, the university sent a letter to students, faculty and staff proposing steps the university can take to address sexual violence on campus — and apologized for not doing so sooner.
“It is clear that we have let you down, and we are sorry,” the MtA letter read.
“To survivors of sexual violence… thank you for coming forward to share your stories, as well as your deep concerns about the University’s inability to provide you with the support you have needed, and deserved.”
This discourse started over the last weekend when MtA student Michelle Roy took to social media, saying students are being silenced when reporting sexual violence on campus.
Solidarity protest held Thursday
On Thursday morning, the MtA community and advocates held a solidarity protest on campus to call for transparency and change. Hundreds of people attended.
“I think it goes to say how much of an issue this is at Mount Allison,” Roy said of the turnout. “I truly believe that we were heard today. And I feel empowered, I feel for empowered for everybody who came”
Danielle Firth, a high school student from nearby Amherst, N.S., said she attended to show support to survivors of sexual violence.
“It’s really real… like, scary,” Firth said of the stories that were shared.
In an interview with Global News after the protest, attendee Emilee Taylor, a fifth year student studying international relations and religious studies, said she was a victim of sexual assault.
“I found it really important to take part in this protest because in my third year at Mount Allison, I was sexually assaulted by someone that I trusted,” she said. “I came forward to the school and I felt like no one was really in my corner.
“When Michelle came out with her grad photos…, I was just so glad that someone finally came forward and put so much light on it. With the amount of support here today, the school will have to do something to make a change for us and everyone coming in the future.”
Making her voice heard
Earlier this week, Roy told Global News she’s spent the last five years lobbying for changes after experiencing harassment and hearing of many other incidents of sexual violence on campus.
“People just started coming to me and telling me their stories,” said Roy. “I started being the one to drive people to the hospital; I started being the one people call in the middle of the night when something happens.
“I started realizing that the university really did nothing at all, and that people trusted me more than the university.”
When Roy posted her story on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday, the posts received hundreds of shares, and similar stories started flooding in.
The university’s action plan
On Tuesday afternoon, MtA spokesperson Laura Dillman Ripley said in an email that the President’s Cabinet is “focused on reaching out to and listening to our students to develop and discuss changes in the immediate term.”
Thursday afternoon, the university’s first-steps action plan was sent out.
The university pledged to make “comprehensive change,” and to involve students in that process.
According to the letter, initial steps of this process will include:
- Increasing resources to support sexual violence prevention and response strategies
- Implementing immediate changes to sexual assault intake and counselling services
- Establishing a Sexual Violence Prevention Working Group at MtA
The university said its first priority is recruiting a new full-time role to lead sexual violence prevention and survivor support services.
MtA has established a partnership with Crossroads for Women, an organization that shelters women experiencing domestic violence, to improve students’ access to direct outreach and counselling.
The non-profit will now be “the primary point of contact and resource for students, survivors, and friends,” the letter said.
The school said it will also initiate a third-party review of MtA’s sexual violence prevention model, resources and procedures.
The independent authority will review “aspects of best-practice sexual violence prevention and education in university settings, including an emphasis on varsity athletics and residence life.”
These steps “represent only the starting point, not the finish line; more work needs to be done,” the letter read.
A new working group will provide input on selecting appropriate experts and firms for the review.
The university’s letter said MtA hopes these actions will “resonate with students and the community as a solid place to start.”
The school called on students to provide feedback, suggestions or any other thoughts on tackling sexual violence on campus.
“It is important that the University fosters a more open and productive dialogue about sexual violence prevention within the Mount Allison community,” the letter read.