On July 15, U of T announced that it had accepted all 12 recommendations from a review of U of T’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment.
The review was undertaken in October 2021 as part of U of T’s broader obligation under the Ontario goverment’s Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, to perform reviews of its sexual violence policy every three years.
From 13 to 12 recommendations
The review was co-chaired by Linda Johnston, dean of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, and Allison Burgess, director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office.
The team consulted staff, faculty, students, and student society leaders across the tri-campus community to inform its recommendations.
Johnston and Burgess presented the review to the UTM and UTSC Campus Councils in May. There were a total of 13 recommendations and accompanying action items in the presentations.
Most of the recommendations focused on improving services already offered by the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre (SVPSC) and the university. These included increasing training and education programs, creating a document separate from the Student’s Guide to the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment for faculty and staff, and revising the student guide.
The first recommendation suggested that the university have the Office of Safety & High Risk oversee the reporting process of incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment. According to the team, this shift would allow the SVPSC, which had previously been responsible for receiving and processing incident reports, to focus more on providing supports for survivors.
The seventh recommendation advised the university to establish formal supports for respondents — individuals accused of sexual violence or harassment. The team’s final report emphasizes that the recommended supports would not include any legal services and would be restricted to mental health supports, academic as well as other accommodations, and training and education services.
The final recommendation focused on increasing the transparency between institutions in order to discourage hiring of faculty and staff who may have been accused of sexual violence or sexual harassment during their employment at another institution. As part of this recommendation, the team also announced that U of T had formally accepted recommendations from the Association of American Universities, whereby the university is obligated to contact prior employers of all prospective faculty and staff hires.
Johnston and Burgess presented the review to the Governing Council on June 28. During this presentation, the previously 13 recommendations had been modified to 12 recommendations.
The team combined recommendations nine and 12 from the original 13 recommendations in its final report. The combined recommendations form recommendation 11 of the final report and concern improving the availability of information to complainants — individuals who have reported an experience of sexual violence or harassment — and increasing the timeliness of the process.
Reflecting on the policy review
In an interview with The Varsity, Micah Kalisch, founder and director of the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) Project — a student-led, trauma-informed initiative that provides support to survivors of sexual violence at U of T — shared their thoughts on the university’s response to the review.
Kalisch explained that they and the PEARS team were surprised by the university’s acceptance of these recommendations despite the criticism: “A lot of us were really angry, and a lot of us were really sad.”
In a previous interview with The Varsity, Kalisch had discussed their concerns regarding the original 13 recommendations of the review. They had found recommendation seven particularly worrisome.
Commenting on recommendation seven and its second action item, which outlines the need to establish formal support for respondents in the Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP), Kalisch said, “It really raised some flags about the prevalence of professors and faculty being accused of sexual violence. If you need to formalize these supports into [the EFAP], then clearly this is something that is happening frequently.”
Kalisch believes the Policy needs to be more survivor-centric and accessible. “We want to see far more supports for survivors… We want to see opportunities for survivors to be more informed with what’s going to happen through a reporting process.”
Kalisch concluded, “It’s really about time that the university listens to survivors and implements meaningful policy change… in a trauma-informed, survivor-centric way, a way that’s going to be unbiased and is going to be ethical.”
Timeline for implementation
In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote, “Many of the recommendations can be enacted swiftly, while others will require appropriate consultation and thoughtful planning.”
The university has already begun implementing several recommendations.
While the proposed changes will go through U of T’s governance process for approval later in the year, all of the proposed changes will be open to additional feedback from the U of T community in September and October through the university’s consultation website.
Most of the recommendations are expected to be completed by 2022–2023, but a few will be completed by 2025.
The next review of the Policy is set to occur in 2025.