A message written anonymously on a bridge near Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke has ignited anger among students and thrown the school’s administration into damage control mode.
There is a seemingly endless stream of students walking across Bishop’s Bridge in Sherbrooke, Que., as they head from student residences to Bishop’s University.
Nowadays, many of them stop and take a moment to reflect on the disturbing message that’s impossible to ignore.
“Honestly, when I first saw it, it was extremely heartbreaking,” recounts Jaidan Stockill, a student at Bishop’s.
Last week, a large sign appeared on the bridge reading: “He raped me, I reported, he’s still in my class, BU take action.”
“For a survivor to do this, it’s not their first option. It is their absolute last resort, because they do not feel believed,” said student Meaghan Connelly, who is part of the Bishop’s University Sexual Culture Committee. “They don’t feel supported and clearly not protected.”
Images of the message on the bridge spread like wild fire on social media.
Then other messages began to appear beside it. Some are about people who say they reported sexual assaults and felt justice was not served, while others say they never reported at all because they didn’t believe the process would help them.
“I was just at a loss for words, to be completely honest with you, not knowing what you can do to help these people, just knowing that they’re in pain,” said Stockill.
Students organized a vigil on the bridge, but had to move it to an adjacent soccer field because so many people showed up.
“I think the environment on campus, there’s a very heavy air right now because everybody feels it,” said Connolly.
Just as the anonymous survivor did, many are directing their anger toward the school and the way it deals with sexual assault.
“I want to see a reporting process that’s truly survivor-centric and doesn’t focus on vexatious claims, and I want to see students expelled for having sexually assaulted other people,” said Scotia Sharpe, a student and co-chair of the Sexual Culture Committee.
Dr. Stine Linden-Andersen, Bishop’s University Dean of Student Affairs, says Bishop’s investigates every formal complaint, and is in the midst of updating its sexual assault policies. On Tuesday she hosted a town hall meeting on the topic that hundreds attended.
“We have seen a small uptick in survivors coming for support here. I think that’s really important that the survivors out there know that our services are available here. They’re free, they’re confidential. We don’t have a waitlist,” said Linden-Andersen.
She said the school is hiring an external firm to investigate the message on the bridge.
“If it highlights areas where we need to improve, areas that that where we fell short, we will address those immediately and thoughtfully. We hope that the survivor will gain a sense of dignity in this process. That’s really important,” she said.
Many are not satisfied with the university’s response.
“We shouldn’t be protecting perpetrators when we have survivors who are sitting in the same classroom as the people that have hurt them,”
Stockill launched a petition demanding concrete change. It has gained almost 10,000 signatures.
“Even the support systems that they’re offering are not good enough because as you can see, nothing’s actually changing after people are reporting,” she said.
Though the message on the bridge has brought anger, there is some optimism.
People have written supportive messages back to survivors, and students hope all the attention is a catalyst to make things better.