Content warning: sexual assault
Hannah* quit her job as a Knox College don after she lost confidence in the college administration’s response after she was sexually assaulted. According to Hannah, an informal meeting took place when she reported the situation to the administration.
Present at the meeting were the perpetrator, the dons, her manager, and the assistant to the manager. Knox College said it would relay the next steps in the process to everyone involved within three days. Hannah said that after eight days, she had yet to hear from the administration.
“I had to call on the administration to find out what was going on and ended up consulting with another U of T college as to how situations of this nature should been handled,” Hannah said. She added that Knox College did not send out any information regarding their decision until two days after she resigned from her position — 10 days after they had promised to communicate it.
Hannah felt that she could not be assured of her safety if she remained at Knox College and sought alternative housing without the support of the college.
When Hannah finally received a letter, it proposed mediation in accordance with Knox’s Sexual Harassment Policy. The letter also told the alleged perpetrator not to approach Hannah unless he had don-resident concerns — instructions that Hannah did not find useful because she had already left her job due to safety concerns.
“I would say, in my opinion, that you have been misinformed of that situation,” said Robert Adams, director of finance and administration at Knox College, to The Varsity. He said the process that followed was in accordance with Knox’s Sexual Harassment Policy and that the process included an interview, after which the letter was sent. “At which point, [Hannah] had already left, but that person is still entitled to know the outcome and what that letter says,” he said.
“She left very quickly, so we wanted to send the letter somewhere, so we asked her where she was and she told us where she was so we sent her the letter,” Adams continued. “[The letter] tells her that there was more of a process that she could follow — whether she wanted to do that or not is up to her. But we wanted to get that information to her. Just because she’s left, she still has rights, she’s still an individual,” he added.
“So, we have not closed the door to discussion. If she thinks that something needs to be done, then she needs to contact us,” Adams stated.
In spite of Adams’ assertion of Hannah’s rights, Hannah said that the administration did not remind her of her rights, either as a don or a resident. “I advocated for the right to my safety and security throughout this process; the other dons and administration did not offer their support or cite my rights at any point,” Hannah said.
Hannah has not replied to the mediation letter. “[It] is most definitely inadequate and is never recommended in an assault case. This was told to me by U of T’s Community Safety [Office] when I sought out external help with the incident,” Hannah said. “They’ve completely tried to make it seem to the community like they are awaiting my response to an invalid way of dealing with the situation before moving forward in any possible direction.”
According to the Residence Handbook and Knox College’s Sexual Harassment Guidelines and Procedures, the grievance process is threefold. The first step involves a meeting to discuss the complaint with those involved.
If a resolution is not reached at that stage, the second step suggests mediation and does not specify a response timeline.
If the claimant does not want mediation, the third step involves an internal investigation. According to Hannah, she has not made a decision about the second step. She said that she does not have confidence in the third step, since Knox College is in charge of both the investigation and the decision, which she believes is a conflict of interest.
Adams said that he was unaware that Hannah had attempted to seek help when dealing with the sexual assault case. When questioned about why Hannah would have confidence in the administration after already bringing concerns to them, Adams said that there were other options she could pursue. “If she doesn’t have confidence in us, and she still believes that she has a strong feeling as to what’s happened, there are other avenues available for her. So I don’t know why she wouldn’t take that,” he said. Adams did not elaborate on the other options that were available.
When Freya*, another resident of Knox College, learned of Hannah’s sexual assault case, she found the college’s response “frustrating.”
“The college is not responsive to input or concerns from students that go against Knox’s way of doing things, traditions, or out-dated guidelines,” she said.
In light of the sexual assault allegations Freya took her concerns to the administration. “[After that], my normally friendly relationship with the Knox Residence Admin has been replaced by the silent treatment,” she said.
Freya stated that Knox deliberately did not inform residents about the sexual assault allegations, so she took it upon herself to put up signs around the college that read “WARNING SEXUAL ASSAULT AT KNOX. Knox Administration and Dons have failed to inform residents.”
The day after Freya spoke with The Varsity, she received an email in which the administration disclosed that a sexual assault complaint had been filed. “I guess Knox admin heard about it and this e-mail was sent out this morning in response,” she said.
The email addressed to the Knox College community reads: “We had a complaint filed (alleged sexual assault) in early January. The process was followed as outlined in the Residence Handbook and Knox College Sexual Harassment Guidelines and Procedures. Those involved in the complaint have been notified and we are awaiting a response to see if further action is required.”
Both Hannah and Freya reported feeling unsafe at Knox.
“Knox does not have any security cameras on the premise, and almost all of the safety and housekeeping concerns/issues are left for the dons to take care of after hours,” Hannah explained. “In regards to my situation, I felt very uncomfortable and unsafe to the point where I asked administration to move to a different floor due to the fact that the perpetrator lived down the hall from me. They complied,” she said.
Hannah also informed the administration that she had no intention of interacting with the perpetrator and that she had not done so up to that point. “Despite doing my part and advocating for my safety and security, I should not have had to do this alone, both as a don and as a resident,” Hannah said.
“I do feel unsafe living at Knox,” said Freya. “Since I learned of the sexual assault at Knox and the related complaints of the accused resident’s behaviour, I came to the realization that if something was to happen to me at Knox, I would not have the support of the college.” Freya found this thought frightening, a worry that was heightened by Knox’s administrative separation from U of T.
The Varsity asked Adams what happens when residents express safety concerns. “I’m not sure how to answer that question and what that means,” he replied. Safety concerns include situations in which residents say that they do not feel safe in this particular environment because they feel threatened by people or have experienced harassment. The Varsity asked how these concerns were resolved in terms of safety and spaces.
“Safety and spaces? Again, I don’t know what that means,” Adams said. “I like to think we take the same action all the time,” Adams said. He explained that if someone came forward with a safety concern, the first step is to tell a don. The administration talks to the don and tries to obtain confirmation of the situation from other dons. “If it’s serious enough, we can follow that through, we can get Campus Police, Metropolitan Police, we’ll pursue that just to see what the situation is.” Although Knox is associated with U of T, it is outside the jurisdiction of the Campus Police.
According to Hannah, this protocol was not followed, which she finds “quite concerning to say the least.”
Policies & support services
When asked if Knox College has a sexual assault policy, Adams stated that it does not. Instead, it has a sexual harassment policy and a Non-Academic Discipline Code, which Adams considers adequate.
“Harassment, if you read through the policy, does include assault or other forms, but I’m not sure why that particular name is important,” he said, regarding the wording of the policy. Sexual assault involves touching or the use of force without the consent of a person; harassment may involve touching or unwanted attention and comments.
Knox College is part of the Toronto School of Theology. Instead of being bound by the University of Toronto’s Code of Student Conduct, it has a “memorandum of understanding” with the university. “Therefore we have a student resident handbook and those policies would apply before the Student Code of Conduct,” said Adams. “[This] does not necessarily mean that a student can get away with not following the U of T’s Student Code of Conduct.”
Adams said that Knox College residents have access to all of the same resources that U of T provides, in addition to the Knox College dons. “If a resident requires to go to or if they need assistance to go to a hospital or CAMH, we can arrange all of that for them,” he said.
When asked what happens if a don requires these services, Adams said that they would be given the same recourse as any resident.
There has been no policy review resulting from the sexual assault allegations. Hannah commented that she finds the absence of a consistent policy to be problematic for various reasons. “The fact that Knox College is not bound to U of T’s Code of Student Conduct should not excuse them from providing adequate spaces and policies where residents and staff can feel safe and empowered to present any concern,” she said. Both she and Freya expressed concern that future cases of sexual assault and harassment may not be addressed with appropriate urgency.
“In the end, I feel violated; not just once but a second time due to Knox College failing to make the complaint of my sense of safety a priority. My living arrangements and employment were disrupted significantly in order for me to feel safe.” Hannah continues to worry about the safety of those remaining at Knox College.
Editor’s note: this article has been altered from a previous version after The Varsity received a request for anonymity.
Tags: Knox College