Content warning: this article discusses sexual violence.

The university’s Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre (SVPSC), which is meant to centralize the university’s response to sexual violence, continues to be met with criticism from student groups that it is inaccessible, confusing, and lacks transparency. 

A few student groups have formed to address the gaps in the centre’s response, focusing on sharing resources and funding for fellow students. One of the only active groups on campus, Trinity College Against Sexual Assault (TASAH), feels that the centre’s communication is subpar. 

In an email to The Varsity, Angela Treglia, Director of the SVPSC, wrote that the centre’s approach is “trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, and client-centered.” She wrote that the centre aims to provide students with information about their options and believes that “it is important that individuals who have experienced sexual violence feel empowered.”

She added that much of the SVPSC’s work relies on collaboration with the colleges and faculties “to build and reinforce a culture of consent.” Treglia wrote that the centre’s engagement with students is also vital and has continued during the pandemic. 

Peer support groups form

TASAH President Micah Kalisch explained that communication between the club and the SVPSC has been far from ideal, noting that the university’s sexual violence response can be discouraging to survivors. 

Kalisch first became interested in sexual misconduct prevention advocacy after she approached the Trinity College administration about upskirting incidents during orientation in 2019. She characterized the administration’s response as “confusing” and said she was only able to arrange a formal meeting after her and a group of students sent a mass email to the Trinity College administration. 

Eventually, Kalisch asked the Trinity College administration to connect her to the SVPSC, since she had called the centre several times without success. When she finally met with somebody from the SVPSC, she claimed that she was told that there was no one to answer the phone. 

Kristen Moore, Dean of Students at Trinity College, wrote in a statement that while the college cannot receive reports of sexual misconduct, they work very closely with the SVPSC to connect students seeking support with professionals at the centre. 

Current advocacy 

In recent months, TASAH has maintained communication with the centre to access resources on training and funding. Kalisch said that the SVPSC still takes a long time to respond, describing it as “radio silence.” 

Sidrah Rana, another member of TASAH, added that the club has many questions about how counsellors are hired and trained. She added that information on how counsellors should interact with students is hard to find, making it difficult for survivors to inform themselves before they approach the centre.

Concerns have been raised about the SVPSC’s accessibility. This semester, students who called the SVPSC as late as January 25 would have heard an outgoing message claiming that the centre was on holiday, even though the winter semester had already been in session for two weeks. 

After being contacted by The Varsity, the SVPSC resolved the “technical hitch” responsible for its outgoing message. It now tells callers to leave a voicemail and that the centre will get back to them as soon as possible. A spokesperson also clarified that, despite the voicemail, the SVPSC has been open to students since the end of the holiday break, and that they have been receiving inquiries throughout January.

“I think that the university at large acts in its best interest, and it acts very defensive and very cold and very invalidating,” Kalisch said of her own experiences at the university and as a survivor of sexual assault. “I think that a lot of the things that they say and do are intended to make survivors feel like their voices shouldn’t be heard and that the issues they’re having are not big enough issues for them to really care about.”

Providing peer support

All the members of TASAH ultimately stressed the importance of students providing other students with support. Kalisch emphasized that since revamping TASAH, all members have been trained in taking disclosures of sexual assault and that the club has been doing so since the beginning of this academic year.

She added that the club is collaborating with the campus-wide sexual violence prevention organization Silence is Violence to restart its activities and extend them to other colleges. 

Arwyn Workman-Youmans, a former member of the club, also noted that she had compiled a detailed information packet on disclosing or reporting sexual violence at the university that can be accessed on the TASAH website.

In collaboration with Trinity College, Workman-Youmans and Phoebe Rogers, a former TASAH president, also established a $30,000 fund for students affected by sexual violence who wish to gain access to a counsellor but don’t have insurance.

As an advocate for peer support, Rana explained that if clubs like TASAH get the funding they need, they can create a network of support on campus. She added that then “there won’t be an information gap between students [and the university].”

Editor’s note (February 1): This article has been updated to clarify that, in Trinity College’s statement, they wrote that Trinity works to connect students seeking support with the SVPSC.