C/O Cindy Cui

McMaster’s idea of equity protects the university rather than the students

CW: sexual violence, anti-Black racism

It’s time that we talk about equity and inclusion at McMaster University.

Throughout the summer, McMaster has been implicated in several issues. Since February 2020, multiple sexual violence allegations have arisen against faculty and one graduate student in the psychology, neuroscience and behaviour program. In addition, there have been many calls from students for Mac to remove Glenn De Caire as the director of parking and security services due to the controversy surrounding his actions during his time as the police chief of the Hamilton Police Services. In 2010, De Caire established the Addressing Crime Trends In Our Neighbourhood team which performed “street checks” on individuals. The McMaster Students Union has also passed a motion to call for the firing of Glenn De Caire and the removal of the special constable program.

Amidst all of these issues, the Equity and Inclusion office has been integral in addressing anti-Black racism, providing sexual violence reporting options and offering support to students. However, when you use a critical lens, the EIO has been unable to be fully equitable, unbiased and supportive of the student body if it is an office run by McMaster — the same university that has inflicted harm on its students.

However, when you use a critical lens, the EIO has been unable to be fully equitable, unbiased and supportive of the student body if it is an office run by McMaster — the same university that has inflicted harm on its students.

I have had personal experiences dealing with the EIO. On Mar. 7, 2019, the Director of Human Rights and Dispute Resolution, Pilar Michaud, contacted me to inform me that McMaster initiated a third-party investigation due to my public allegations against my perpetrator. This was something I did not agree to and had indicated that I did not want to proceed with a formal investigation to the sexual violence response coordinator a couple of months prior. Because the investigation also involved my residence representative position, my application was put on pause, and the EIO assured me that I would be able to interview after the investigation had concluded. Despite this, I was implicated in a 10-month long investigation (which meant that I was unable to even be considered for a residence rep position before Welcome Week had passed) where I had to discuss the detailed events of my sexual assault to a third-party investigator, who was also a white man.

During the investigation, I felt incredibly alone. I was told not to discuss any details related to my assault or the investigation to anyone who may be a potential witness to facts or details of what occurred. This severely restricted my support system, as I had discussed what happened to me with many of my friends and because of that, they could have been considered a witness for this investigation.

In a time that the EIO was supposed to support me, I felt scrutinized for speaking about my traumatizing experience and worried that somehow they would conclude that I inflicted harm on my perpetrator instead of the other way around. Although McMaster had concluded that my perpetrator had violated the sexual violence policy, the university refused to provide any details regarding what consequences he would face, other than that he cannot contact me — despite the fact that I did not ask for this sanction to be put in place. Why does the EIO think that being survivor-centric is creating sanctions that the survivor did not ask for? 

Throughout my entire interview process, the most support I received were from my peers, not the EIO. All the EIO did was involve me in a traumatic investigation process and occasionally emailed me with a list of resources that I could access. 

Throughout my entire interview process, the most support I received were from my peers, not the EIO. All the EIO did was involve me in a traumatic investigation process and occasionally emailed me with a list of resources that I could access. 

It is also notable that the person who signed off the letter regarding the decision made for the investigation was Sean Van Koughnett, the dean of students and associate vice-president of students and learning. Van Koughnett is a white man whom I’ve never met — so why did he have a say in whether my allegations were true or not?

The fact that the EIO involved Van Koughnett, someone who has not held a formal role in sexual violence prevention, made it clear that they were not here to make a decision that was supposed to support my wellbeing. Had they truly wanted to help me, they would have had someone knowledgeable of sexual violence sign off on the decision instead.

Don’t get me wrong — the Equity and Inclusion Office has held meaningful events such as the “Let’s Talk About Race” workshop series and Black student virtual check-ins. However, a lot of their advocacy work falls short if they continuously fail to tangibly support students who want to report the harm that they have experienced at McMaster. Although I’d like to say that my experience with the office was an outlier, I know of many other students who have been failed by the EIO. 

At the end of the day, EIO acts more like a corporate entity — it’s not here to protect students, it’s here to protect McMaster’s reputation. 

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