By: Sasha Dhesi
McMaster is in the process of developing a policy addressing sexual assault, as mandated by the Liberal government.
The policy is being spearheaded by various groups on campus like the Human Rights and Equity Services, the President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community, and the MSU’s Women and Gender Equity Network.
In March 2015, the Liberal government passed Bill 132, also known as the “It’s Never Okay” policy, which updated the sexual assault and harassment legislation in Ontario. One part of this bill specifically targets sexual assault on university campuses. In the last few years alone,controversies have arisen at many prominent Ontario universities, and these universities found themselves ill-equipped to deal with these situations.
The policy is slated to be complete by January 2017, which is the deadline established by the provincial government. Developing the policy has not been without bumps in the road.
“It’s a mistake to think this is a simple process. An issue we’ve come by is that if courts and the legislature are having difficulties approaching sexual assault, and have not served survivors, why would we, a university with no additional expertise, be able to do it any better?” said Jane Aronson, a professor in the faculty of social sciences and member of PACBIC.
Currently, McMaster does not have a policy to directly investigate and discipline sexual assault allegations committed on campus.
The ways McMaster has dealt with it in the past has been through McMaster’s Discrimination, Harassment & Sexual Harassment: Prevention and Response policy. That document ultimately includes sexual assault and gender-based violence.
Additionally, WGEN offers support to sexual assault survivors through peer support and resources.
McMaster’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Meaghan Ross, works with the community to ensure survivors are given the necessary resources.
However, McMaster has no official policy to address allegations of sexual assault on campus, whether students or faculty commits them.
The new sexual assault policy, according to Bill 132, must accommodate the needs of survivors, as well as include an official reporting system where complaints will be investigated and if needed, disciplined.
The policy will also be easily accessible, as mandated by Bill 132, and must include the input of students to ensure it captures the student population’s needs.
The process of creating this policy has been fraught with potholes, though. Due to the nature of sexual assault, not to mention the different ways different groups on campus experience it, PACBIC has had to go through many discussions with a wide variety of individuals to ensure that their new policy addresses the nuances necessary for such a policy to succeed.
They have discussed the policy with student groups like WGEN, as well as the Muslim Student Association, Queer Students Community Center, and Indigenous students, as well as others.
The diversity of the university institution itself adds another complexity.
“There are employee faculty rights … a lot of nitty gritty that we haven’t thought about. What about a faculty member who’s a prof and a practising physician? Which protocol do they follow, and how does it affect their career? A lot of interests need to be considered,” said Aronson.
The new policy is still in the works, and students who wish to have their voices heard may do so by contacting members of PACBIC.
This ambitious policy will set the precedent for creating a safer campus outside of the support McMaster already offers survivors.
With that said, for those who require aid, WGEN and HRES specialise in addressing and supporting survivors of sexual assault, as well as SACHA in downtown Hamilton.