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Student job applicants need to be vetted more to prevent harm within our communities

CW: sexual violence, racism

As a student, there are many ways you can get involved at McMaster University. Whether it’s becoming a representative for Welcome Week, being a mentor for McMaster’s many mentorship programs, volunteering for the Student Wellness Centre or getting involved with the McMaster Students Union — there are plenty of opportunities for everyone. Some positions are paid as well — for example, a few part-time paid roles that students can apply for are the Archway mentor position where you mentor around 40 first year students, and a Residence Orientation Assistant, which manages a team of Residence Orientation Representatives throughout the school year.

Notably, a number of student jobs involve interacting with other students or prospective students, whether it is providing support to certain individuals or helping first-year students transition into university. Thus, it is important that individuals in these positions are properly trained for situations that may arise, such as sexual violence disclosures and situations surrounding discrimination. However, I believe that individuals entering these paid positions should also have some form of background check during the application process to make sure that they can respond to serious issues properly.

While training for paid positions is often provided surrounding these topics, the training can come in the form of a short Mosaic quiz or a two-hour workshop done by the Equity and Inclusion Office on responding to sexual violence disclosures. As someone who has completed many pieces of training on sexual violence, bystander intervention and anti-oppressive practices, I believe that training is often not enough to aid individuals in responding to disclosures if they’ve never done so in the past. If a student has responded to a disclosure in a harmful way in the past, I am doubtful that training will be able to equip these students adequately so that they do not cause harm again. As a result, they may intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to the people they interact with.

If a student has responded to a disclosure in a harmful way in the past, I am doubtful that training will be able to equip these students adequately so that they do not cause harm again. As a result, they may intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to the people they interact with.

Currently, many student jobs are heavily involved with the student body, such as McMaster Students Union part-time managers, Archway mentors or ROAs. However, in applications for these positions, there is little to no focus on how applicants have responded or would respond to serious incidents unless the job directly entails responding to disclosures, such as being a part-time manager of a peer support service. Many positions that my friends and I have applied for often focus on what relevant experience you have for a job or what ideas you want to bring to the role. Unfortunately, questions that focus on responding to incidents of violence are far and few between. It is especially vital that students in these positions know how to deal with difficult situations so that they do not cause harm to others.

As comprehensive as training can be, you can’t always train individuals to change their beliefs. By performing some form of background or reference check on applicants, you can vet whether they would be able to respond to harmful incidents well. Jobs outside of university that involve providing care, minors or vulnerable people require vulnerable sector checks. If certain student jobs involve support, students that are minors or people in vulnerable situations, it only makes sense that this standard is applied to students as well. 

Checking to see how students have responded to incidents regarding harassment, sexual violence or discrimination in the past is important because it can be a good indicator of how they will respond to these things in the future. Whether you check their history by seeing if they have a negative record with McMaster or ask their co-workers or past bosses, this is something that should be done more frequently. Sure, training may be able to alter someone’s behaviour to some extent, but it is unlikely to completely reform someone from a few hours of training.

Checking to see how students have responded to incidents regarding harassment, sexual violence or discrimination in the past is important because it can be a good indicator of how they will respond to these things in the future.

In addition, many student job interviews lack questions where one can ask the applicant about issues such as sexual violence or racism to highlight any red flags. Even if the job is not directly related to dealing with discrimination or sexual violence, these situations can come up regardless, so it is important to make sure that people can respond appropriately.

Although student jobs are often part-time and temporary, they can still have a big impact on our community. That’s why it’s important to make sure that students in paid positions are adequately prepared to respond to any situation that may come up so that they don’t respond to an issue in a way that harms someone else.

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