C/O McMaster Daily News

Allegations highlight the need for systemic and cultural change around sexual violence and discrimination. 

CW: sexual assault

The Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour has now penalized five indiviudals, including at least four suspensions from campus and their positions, due to allegations under the Sexual Violence Policy and the Discrimination and Harassment Policy. Investigations first began in February, when news arose that an associate professor, Scott Watter, was suspended. In June, Watter was charged with two counts of sexual assault that occurred in 2017. 

On July 28, David Farrar, president of McMaster University, released a letter stating that the school will be conducting an investigation into the department’s underlying cultural and systemic issues.

“McMaster will not tolerate any behaviour that threatens the security and safety of any member of our campus community. I recognize the courage of the complainants who have come forward, and I want to assure them that their allegations will be fully and fairly investigated and that appropriate action will be taken,” wrote Farrar. 

While the university has stated they will be conducting an investigation, services around campus such as the McMaster Students Union’s Women and Gender Equity Network look to see what action will be taken to support survivors of sexual violence. WGEN is a service that offers a support group run by and catered to survivors. The content of the support groups are dictated by those within the group and it is entirely peer-run. By doing so, the service encourages an environment where survivors are given the chance to seek support in a way they desire.  

Speaking to the Silhouette about improvements regarding the implementation of survivor-centric practices, Yimeng Wang, coordinator of WGEN, said that although the school may be doing its best to support survivors, policies by nature are inflexible. This can put limitations on how much emphasis is truly placed on survivors and their individual needs.

Wang believes that putting in place survivor-centric practices means giving autonomy to the person who has been harmed. Allowing survivors to ask for accountability from the person who has caused harm in a way that they desire is an important part of providing them with adequate support.

Wang believes that putting in place survivor-centric practices means giving autonomy to the person who has been harmed. Allowing survivors to ask for accountability from the person who has caused harm in a way that they desire is an important part of providing them with adequate support. 

Wang also added that the limitations of policies does not excuse the harm that the school may create. 

“Neither [the sexual violence policy and the discrimination and harassment policy] are policies sufficient for creating survivor-centric spaces that comes from constantly practicing support and listening to survivors’ needs. If harm has been caused in the past, forgiveness or changes in perspective are not owed to the institution that has caused that harm regardless of changes that have occurred since then,” said Wang.

Along with the ongoing investigation, protests to defund the police have been occurring across the nation, including within the city of Hamilton. At McMaster, many students have been calling for the termination of Glenn De Caire, McMaster’s head of parking and security services, due to concerns of discrimination and racial profiling. 

In addition to discrimination issues, there are concerns from students around how security services responds to disclosures of sexual violence.

Wang added that the ways we address harm are often tied to punitive measures and security services. 

“While some survivors may feel safe and want to take the approach of disclosing to Security Services and police, a lot of survivors have very rightful concerns and harmful associations and experiences with those systems, especially when we look at the specific people in power at Security Services at McMaster right now. There are ways in which those ties make it more harmful for survivors to disclose,” said Wang.

Advocating for the removal of campus police, a group known as De Caire Off Campus recently shared via social media regarding the harm that special constables have on survivors’ disclosure experience. The group noted that students have experienced accusations of lying as well as dissuasion to press charges. In addition, the group shared several alleged reported incidents of campus police abusing their power, making the service ill-equipped to handle sexual violence.

As students begin their fall semester, the investigation into the department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour progresses while groups such as De Caire Off Campus continue to call for the termination of the special constable program

As the investigation unfolds, McMaster has suggested that those in need of support can reach out to resources such as:

Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.