A student group is calling on the university administration to make a more rigorous effort to curb sexual violence on campus.
The petition, launched by “Stop Sexual Violence U of T,” comes in the wake of the formation of the new Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence.
According to the coalition, the committee lacks thorough representation from affected groups, particularly students.
The petition asks the president, provost and Advisory Committee to open a new selection process, draw feedback from a variety of students and student groups from all three University of Toronto campuses, improve resources and support services, ensure campus police are well-trained on issues of sexual violence, and review current policies and procedures.
Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, says that, due to the large number of students looking to participate, not all interested parties were able to have representation on the committee. She emphasizes that interested individuals will have other opportunities to be heard.
“These individuals have been provided with an opportunity to make a submission to the committee. There will also be opportunities for individuals and groups to speak to the issue of sexual violence as the committee work moves ahead through consultation and focus groups,” says Blackburn-Evans, adding that the university is eager to have input relayed to the committee from all sources.
Celia Wandio, the undergraduate student who launched the petition, expressed concern about the lack of information on the Advisory Committee’s selection procedure.
“My impression of the selection process is that it is not thoroughly thought-out. It seems that the university started to feel pressure to do something as a result of media attention to the topic of sexual violence as well as student pressure, so they announced the launch of the Advisory Committee to quell discontent,” Wandio says.
Wandio became interested in the committee because of her summer job at the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, an organization that works on issues related to violence against women and youth.
“Much of my job consisted of doing research for a recently launched discussion paper on campus sexual assault policies. In doing this research, I learned about the importance of clear sexual assault policies, and I also learned of the incompetence of U of T’s current approach to these issues,” Wandio says.
To Wandio, there is not enough student representation on the committee.
Najiba Ali Sardar, University of Toronto Students’ Union vice-president, equity, shares similar concerns.
“Representation matters, especially in this context. Racialized women, for instance, or Trans* women, are at higher rates of risk for sexual violence. We need those voices to help us… to protect all of our students as best as possible,” she says.
Wandio also expressed concern about the lack of an intersectional approach to addressing sexual assault. “[W]e have no indication that they have recognized the importance of including voices from groups that face disproportionate levels of sexual violence: not only women, but Indigenous women, racialized women, trans* people, international students, gay men or men ‘perceived’ as gay,” she says.
“I hate to sound cynical, but I can’t help but think the administration wants to do the least they can while still avoiding negative public attention,” Wandio adds.
As of press time, the petition has 328 signatures.