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Concordia students boycott sexual violence committee

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Concordia University student groups boycott sexual violence committee
WATCH: Three Concordia University student organizations, representing close to 50,000 students are boycotting the school's sexual violence committee. The advisory committee was put in place in 2019 to help build the university's sexual violence policy. Students are now refusing to participate, claiming their demands and recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. Global's Felicia Parrillo reports. – Oct 5, 2022

Students from Concordia University say after years of frustration, demands and protests, they’ve reached their tipping point.

Three student organizations, Concordia Student Union (CSU), Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), and the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union (TRAC), have decided they will no longer participate in Concordia’s standing committee on sexual misconduct and sexual violence.

“The years of experience that students have had participating in that committee have taught us that we don’t actually have a lot of influence,” said Becca Wilgosh, TRAC’s vice-president.

Concordia’s standing committee on sexual misconduct and sexual violence is a committee made up of students, administrative staff and faculty members who coordinate university efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

READ MORE: Concordia University reacts to sexual misconduct allegations

It was created after sexual misconduct allegations rocked the school’s creative writing department in January 2018.

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Students say the university is not properly handling accusations of sexual harassment against faculty members and claim it has often undermined student participation in the committee.

“Concordia’s sloppy process and refusal to approach problems with a student-centered and solution-oriented mindset has hindered the Arts and Science Federation of Associations’ (ASFA) ability to fully support our own membership,” said Payton Mitchell an ASFA spokesperson.

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The student organization believes they, the students, should be designing the policy.

“We want it to be survivor-centric and we want it to be stand-alone,” said Wilgosh.

READ MORE: Concordia University defends handling of sexual misconduct complaint

In a statement to Global News, a Concordia University spokesperson said they recently found out about the withdrawal, shortly before the Standing Committee on Sexual Violence’s first scheduled meeting of the academic year, last Friday.

“The message did not state the reasons for the withdrawal, nor were these stated when student representation was finalized in August. The Chair of the Committee reached out to student representatives to learn more and has scheduled a meeting with them next week. We hope to be able to discuss their concerns and find a way forward,” said Concordia University spokesperson Vannina Maestracci.

But students say there will be no moving forward unless major changes are made.

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Quebec’s Bill 151, an act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions, which was adopted in 2017, prohibited universities and other post-secondary institutions from telling students if their alleged harasser had been fired, sanctioned, or what, if any, consequences the person faced.

But recently, the bill was amended, and so Concordia also made changes to its sexual violence policy.

READ MORE: Concordia report finds ‘unhealthy’ climate in English department, with ‘real or perceived’ sexual violence

Article 63 of the policy states: “in such cases, the University will notify the Complainant when the investigation has been carried out and, upon request, will provide information to the Survivor/Victim regarding the outcome of the Complaint, such as whether a sanction was imposed, and, if so, the details thereof.”

Though Wilgosh admits the changes are a positive step, she believes there’s still more work that needs to be done.

“If the university centred transparency and survivors, they would have been lobbying for these changes and they would not continue to use private arbitration for cases that require complainants to sign NDAs,” she said. “We plan to withhold our participation until the process is meaningfully led by students, transparent, and survivor-centric.”

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