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Protecting students in residence Students applying to be community advisors should be required to complete vulnerable sector checks

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Photo by Kyle West

Students entering university are faced with many new things: new classes, new friends and sometimes even new living arrangements. But students living in on-campus residences should not have to worry about their safety.

To help students transition into living away from home, and to enforce the rules of residence life, McMaster University community advisors live with first-year students in their residences. Their purpose is to “develop and maintain an environment that is conducive to learning and personal growth.”

To be a CA, one must fulfill many qualifications including maintaining a minimum sessional average of 6.0, being a full-time McMaster University student, demonstrating responsibility and leadership abilities and have a working knowledge or building community within students.

But for all the listed requirements, CAs are not required to complete any sort of police background check, including a very important vulnerable sector check.

VS checks are a collection of offence information that is restricted to applicants seeking employment or volunteering in a position of authority or trust over vulnerable persons in Canada. They can be obtained easily from the police service in your residing jurisdiction.

The lack of VS checks for CAs is problematic for many reasons. For one, many incoming students are under 18-years-old. In these cases, it is evident that these students are considered vulnerable persons and subsequently require additional protection from those in positions of authority and trust like CAs.

But even for incoming students who are legally adults, their role as a first-year student inherently places them in a lower position of power relative to their CAs. This power dynamic can be harmful if the CAs have a history of offensive behaviour.

CAs have a lot of influence over the first-year students under their supervision. CAs are oftentimes students’ first interaction with upper-year students and are meant to be the go-to person for questions about campus and residence life. To not conduct a proper background check on them is negligent of the university in ensuring that students are protected.

The lack of VS checks is not an exclusive issue of CAs. In addition to CAs, residence-affiliated positions such as the residence orientation representative are not required to complete VS checks.

In fact, part-time managers, the board of directors and other McMaster Students Union positions do not require the completion of a VS check.

Considering that almost all of these roles involve interaction with and power over a vulnerable population of students, it makes no sense why these roles do not require VS checks. If anything, the lack of VS checks puts students in avoidable danger.

In addition to VS checks, McMaster University should do a more thorough job of ensuring that individuals hired for their positions are positive reflections of the university. This includes ensuring that these individuals have not been reported to university administration or asked to withdraw from their positions previously.

The lack of sufficient and necessary screening of individuals in positions of power within the university is alarming. For McMaster University to truly commit to ensuring student safety, they must create better hiring policies that begin with implementation of VS checks.

 

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Author: Sabrina Macklai

Sabrina Macklai is the Opinion Editor for Volume 89. A fourth-year Integrated Science student completing her thesis in analytical chemistry, she is a wearer of many hats - so long as the hat sparkles! Since she was a child, she’s had a love for the written word and has been involved in several publications including scientific journals and creative writing magazines. She firmly believes that everyone has a story to tell and it is her ambition to help as many as possible share theirs with the world.