Graphic by Katarina Brkic
Two long weeks after The Silhouette released an article regarding the gaps within the McMaster Students Union sexual violence disclosure processes, MSU President Ikram Farah finally released a statement.
The statement, which reads as a rambling pat on the back, condemns sexual violence and commits to a systematic review of the Maroons and the MSU as a whole, something that two Maroons representatives brought forward when they suggested a full audit of the service back in September 2018.
In the fall, a regularly scheduled service audit was conducted in which Maroons representatives made it known that an additional reporting tool would be useful. They also noted that the MSU’s workplace policy on harassment, discrimination and sexual violence should be more survivor-centric.
In response, the MSU vice president (Administration), Kristina Epifano, developed an online reporting tool and reportedly consulted with volunteers, staff and experts to update the workplace policy. But once released, it was discovered that this online reporting tool was not nearly as thorough or inclusive as the Maroons representatives had hoped.
Additionally, there is no evidence that the board of directors made any effort to lay the groundwork for investigation of sexual assault within the Maroons.
These Maroons representatives spent six months advocating for a full service review of the Maroons that focused on sexual assault. It was only when they made a public report to The Silhouette that the MSU president pledged to begin investigating sexual assault within the service.
Farah’s statement comes two weeks too late and six months after the fact that the two Maroons representatives reported the culture of sexual assault within the Maroons to Epifano.
The fact is that over the course of the two weeks following release of our article, the Maroons were actively hiring new representatives and ignoring the calls to action from the McMaster community.
Though Farah stated that Maroons events will be suspended for the time being while the review is underway, it is unclear whether the Maroons will be involved in Welcome Week this fall.
There’s a lot to say about the statement. We could mention that within the statement, Farah makes a note that she personally has not found any “actual reports” of sexual violence within the Maroons team this year. While she does acknowledge that the lack of reporting does not mean that harassment or assault hasn’t occurred, this tangent is absolutely unnecessary and self-praising.
What’s more is Farah’s claim that the MSU’s “practices and disclosure protocols are exemplary of the sector.”
What does exemplary mean if the practices and disclosure policies have not been consistent, thorough nor inclusive before these past few months? In what way is taking two weeks to release a statement regarding the matter exemplary?
Within the MSU, the lines between personal and professional are constantly blurred. Given that the MSU has consistently protected individuals accused of sexual assault, it is no surprise that survivors may not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual assault.
Whether the perpetrator was a member of the Student Representative Assembly or a presidential candidate, the MSU has continuously failed to support survivors.
This is indicative of a larger issue within the MSU: there is no independent human resources department to respond to complaints and initiate reviews.
Maroons representatives spent six months advocating for change, and it took two weeks and dozens of community members, volunteers and MSU employees taking to social media to demand a response from the Maroons coordinator and have the MSU commit to a full service review.
In order to properly address sexual assault at a systemic level, the MSU needs to overhaul its sexual assault policy and oversight process.
The MSU has proven time and time again that it is poorly equipped to properly respond to sexual assault allegations. It is left entirely up to the board of directors to ensure that policies are upheld, but they are not trained or qualified to respond to issues of this magnitude.
The MSU needs an independent HR department to consistently and proactively address concerns so that students do not have to turn to public disclosure in order to initiate a review process.