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‘Making a change’: N.B. announces roundtable for sexual violence on campus

A photo from a protest on Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. that happened Nov. 12 in response to sexual violence and concerns about the institution's handling of sexual violence concerns. Callum Smith / Global News

More than a month after Mount Allison University (MtA) students held a protest against sexual violence and the university’s response to sexual violence concerns, the New Brunswick government has announced it is creating a ’roundtable to address sexual violence on campuses.’

The first roundtable meeting will take place in either January or February, according to Tammy Scott-Wallace, the minister responsible for women’s equality.

Michelle Roy, a fifth-year MtA student, shared grad photos with her concerns about alleged harm caused by the university. The protest came together in response to her story and others that were shared online.

She says “it’s a shame” that it took that level of advocacy to address such an important issue, but she’s pleased with how the university — and now the province — is handling the concerns now.

“I think so far it’s going pretty well,” she says. “I think people are really invested in making a change right now; the university, the province, the students, faculty.”

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Read more: ‘We are sorry’: Mount Allison University announces sexual violence action plan

Stories of sexual violence have also come to light on social media from students at the University of New Brunswick recently.

Those stories, discussions and protests caught the attention of Scott-Wallace.

“There was a bit of an outcry at the time by young women who had been sexually assaulted on campuses in the province,” she says in an interview with Global News Friday. “They felt that they hadn’t been heard, they felt that there needed to be more accountability by the universities and the institutions involved.”

According to a provincial government release, survivors of sexual violence on campus will be able to share stories through the roundtable.

“What has occurred and what is happening to students subjected to sexual violence on campuses across the province is unacceptable,” Scott-Wallace said in the release. “While no one should be subjected to violence, we know that this is a gendered issue which impacts women and gender minorities disproportionately.”

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In her interview, Scott-Wallace says while universities have their own practices, government is “really trying to help create a conversation with universities where, at the end of the day, there is some solid, kind of a consistent program or policy in place that addresses these issues once and for all.”

Read more: ‘It’s an access to education issue’: Why more needs to be done about sexual assaults at schools

Scott-Wallace and Trevor Holder, the province’s post-secondary education, training and labour minister, will facilitate the roundtable. Other participants include reps from post-secondary institutions, student associations, the government, service providers and survivors.

“Students should expect to be safe when they make a decision to attend college or university, and if something does go wrong, they need to know the proper institutional support will be in place,” Scott-Wallace said in her statement.

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The purpose of the roundtable is “to encourage meaningful change for survivors and help reduce sexual violence in communities.”

A report on actions and recommendations from the roundtable will be completed in the spring, the province says.

“Our government is committed to ensuring post-secondary institutions are safe and free of sexual violence,” Holder said. “Taking action on this issue is critical to establishing positive learning environments and educational outcomes.”

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The province has provided a list of resources for sexual assault survivors, which can be found here, but says post-secondary institutions have their own supports for people on campus.

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