U of T students should listen to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

Ford’s testimony is a familiar narrative for survivors of sexual assault on university campuses

U of T students should listen to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

Content warning: this article discusses sexual violence.

On September 27, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford spoke publicly about her alleged sexual assault by then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Ford’s speech resonates with many survivors of sexual assault, particularly those who have experienced assault on university campuses. The connection between Ford’s alleged assault and the assaults experienced by many university students lies in the political implications of speaking out.   

Consider Victoria College’s web page for current students, ‘Let’s talk about sexual assault,’ which suggests that women attending university are more susceptible to sexual assault as “attitudes toward and expectations about alcohol and drug use, sexual activity, and social interaction are different in a university setting.”

These expectations work together to create an environment that does not shame those who perpetrate sexual assault, but rather shames the survivors. This environment normalizes a lack of consent during sexual encounters and allows alcohol use to excuse predatory actions. The reasons for the susceptibility of young women to sexual assault, as described by U of T, overlap with themes discussed by Ford: alcohol use, shame, adolescent sexuality, and uncertainty.

These themes create a discourse that prevents university students from speaking out, just as Ford was fearful of speaking out. Kavanaugh attempted to belittle Ford’s claims by detailing his alcohol use as something “almost everyone did,” and that because of this, he could not be guilty of sexual assault.  

While the climate of university campuses makes it difficult for survivors to speak out, the particular climate at U of T adds another layer of coming to terms with one’s sexual assault. It has recently been revealed that, in 2019, U of T will continue to hold its position as Canada’s top university. The pressure created by this ranking is twofold.

Firstly, the ranking persuades the university to maintain a pristine reputation a reputation that does not include sexual assault. Instead of taking preventative measures including discussing consent and sexual assault, the university has an incentive to conceal sexual assault cases by creating bureaucratic barriers that prevent individuals from reporting assault.

Universities in Ontario are required to have specific plans and procedures that encourage students to report assaults. However, U of T has been criticized for dismissing claims put forward by students and failing to provide support for survivors.

Secondly, the ranking may cause students to pressure themselves to be exemplary.  Ford had said, “I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details.Her inability to come forward due to the fear of being labelled deviant or untruthful is something that resonates with young students striving toward perfection.  

When Ford spoke out, she was scrutinized by Republican senators, the Supreme Court, and the entire US population. When a U of T student speaks out, they may be interrogated by the university administration and fellow students. Regardless of the different stakes, both Ford’s testimony and a U of T student’s testimony are susceptible to institutional scrutiny.  

Ultimately, it is the individual’s choice to speak about their assault. Ford detailed the challenges that she has faced since deciding to speak out and name her accuser: “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified.” She experienced ridicule from her close peers and from anonymous strangers. However, Ford has also “experienced an outpouring of support from people in every state of this country.”

Ford demonstrated that power does not necessarily come from naming her accuser. Rather, power comes from the support given by those who believe and listen to her story. The U of T campus may discourage sexual assault survivors from coming forward. However, we can empower survivors by letting them know that we are listening, that we believe them, and that we stand by them.  

Morgan Powell is a fourth-year Women and Gender Studies and Book and Media Studies student at Woodsworth College.

Man wanted after sexual assault at Madison Avenue Pub

18-year-old woman assaulted on patio

Man wanted after sexual assault at Madison Avenue Pub

Toronto Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a man accused of sexually assaulting a woman at Madison Avenue Pub. The assault occurred at approximately 2:00 am on May 19. Pictures of the suspect have been released.

The man is described as being around 21–25 years old, between five feet 10 inches and five feet 11 inches, with a fit build.

Madison Avenue Pub is a popular spot among students located near Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-7474, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), or online at www.222tips.com.

Learning the business: education and the Weinstein complex

Sexual misconduct in Toronto theatre schools highlights the need to address institutional flaws that are characteristic of the entertainment industry

Learning the business: education and the Weinstein complex

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, it has become clear that Hollywood is not the only institution in the spotlight when it comes to sexual misconduct. In Toronto, theatre programs at postsecondary institutions like Randolph College for the Performing Arts and George Brown College have also been rocked by sexual assault accusations.

While it is productive that these allegations are being heard and taken seriously, it is problematic that many conversations revolve around accused individuals as outliers. This rhetoric allows institutions to target perpetrators without addressing the deeper issues of policy and culture that create and enable them in the first place.

Here’s what has happened at the two colleges so far. At George Brown, several students accused former Acting Teacher Todd Hammond of inappropriate sexual comments. Though the first accusations from a former student appeared in February 2017, Hammond was still associated with the school as a director as late as April 2017. His name has now disappeared from George Brown’s Theatre Faculty Directory, but the college has yet to make a formal announcement regarding his absence.

At Randolph College, founder and former President George Randolph announced his intended retirement for spring of 2018. Then, in January 2018, the college issued a formal statement saying that Randolph had been accused of making “unwelcomed comments and physical gestures” by former students and staff. The administration did not explicitly state that his preemtive retirement last December was due to these accusations, but I would say that the timing deserves scrutiny due to the quick succession of events.

In the end, we have two colleges specializing in acting and performance, and two high-ranking individuals accused of sexual misconduct, both of whom have now vacated their positions. While this is a good start, there is still much institutional action required. If we are now acknowledging that the entertainment industry is a breeding ground for sexual harassment — whether it be in Hollywood or within educational facilities in Toronto — institutions have to dig deeper and ask why this is the case and what they can do to prevent harassment in the future.

Professional entertainment settings are characterized by intense competition over employment, a theme that underlies the Weinstein allegations. A startling amount of Weinstein’s victims stated that fear of losing current or potential job opportunities was a reason they initially chose to stay silent about their experiences.

Similar factors appear to be at play at the Toronto theatre schools currently under scrutiny due to sexual misconduct allegations. Students at George Brown have cited the school’s system of regularly eliminating students for not meeting the program’s standards as creating an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.

In an interview with The Varsity, two graduates from Randolph College who wished to remain anonymous recalled how they were made to believe that expressing any “concern, objection or dislike” of teachers or faculty would potentially ruin their career. This took place through instructions on professionalism and a lack of willingness to address concerns in conversations with various staff members. Furthermore, graduates of Randolph College stated that Student Services, the proscribed avenue for sexual misconduct complaints at the college, is widely perceived by students to be not confidential.

If these schools are creating atmospheres where objections are perceived as tantamount to throwing away one’s career, and where they may not even be heard confidentially, it is hardly a surprise that sexual harassment allegations fester.

To move past individual perpetrators into institutional changes, the first step should be breaking the culture of silence and fear. Weinstein had a reputation in Hollywood of being predatory before the accusations, but silence prevailed over fear that anyone who hurt his career would face consequences to their own employment. Randolph College and George Brown could combat this tendency toward silence by clearly stating the conditions under which Hammond and Randolph stepped down.

While both colleges claim to be revising policy, nothing has yet become public. Bringing the conversation out into the open is imperative to digging into policy and culture in a productive way. If the institutions remain hushed about the proceedings, it seems akin to the previous environments that cultivated fear around hurting the reputations of industry names.

It must also be acknowledged that theatre programs are a unique academic setting. One graduate from Randolph College noted that “theatre training does sometimes require physical contact between student and instructor,” a requirement that probably does not occur in many other fields. A specific setting requires specific policy: if physicality is the norm, there must be a clear way for students to express when they are comfortable and when they are not, without fear of their education or career being jeopardized.

Institutions like George Brown and Randolph College exist for the purpose of preparing students for the professional industry — if sexual harassment goes overlooked or unaddressed, it is tacitly accepted, and undoubtedly bleeds into the professional industry. But if schools take the initiative in ensuring students’ ability to express discomfort without repercussion, they can begin to change the industry from the ground up.

Maighdlin Mahoney is a second-year student at University College studying English and History.

Alleged sexual assault comes to light at the Citizen Lab

2014 incident illuminated by letter from director, perpetrator fired

Alleged sexual assault comes to light at the Citizen Lab

An alleged sexual assault that coincided with a Citizen Lab event in 2014 was revealed in an open letter from Director Ronald Deibert, posted the Citizen Lab website last week. The alleged assaulter, Morgan Marquis-Boire, has been removed from his position as a security researcher and technical advisor with the lab.

According to the letter, posted on October 13, Marquis-Boire allegedly sexually assaulted another individual during the Citizen Lab-hosted Cyber Dialogue conference in March 2014.

In the letter, Deibert says Marquis-Boire requested to resign from the Citizen Lab’s technical advisory group in September, shortly before the accuser approached Deibert to inform him of the alleged sexual assault. Following this encounter, Deibert terminated Marquis-Boire’s position at the Citizen Lab.

Marquis-Boire also held positions at First Look Media, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. EFF has revoked affiliation with him following the sexual assault allegations.

Marquis-Boire did not respond to The Varsity’s attempts to contact him.

Deibert writes that he broached the possibility of pursuing legal action or going public with the unnamed individual, both of which the individual declined at the time. However, after a second consultation with the original party, Deibert wrote that he felt it was his “responsibility to make a public statement on behalf of the Citizen Lab.”

In the letter, Deibert states the Citizen Lab stands “behind survivors of sexual assault in all its forms, [supports] those who come forward to share their experiences, and [is] committed to creating safer spaces in our community.”

The letter indicates that the Citizen Lab incorporated a Code of Conduct in July 2017 to “clearly articulate what constitutes inappropriate behavior at events we organize.”

The Citizen Lab declined to comment beyond the scope of the letter. Similarly, U of T’s media relations did not directly address the alleged sexual assault, explaining to The Varsity that they were first made aware of the incident via Deibert’s letter on October 13.

In an interview for The Varsity regarding sexual violence policy at U of T, Executive Director, Personal Safety, High Risk and Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Terry McQuaid said, “We know that sexual violence is a broader societal issue, and universities are no different, they’re grappling with this issue as well.”

Deibert also alluded to the management of and attitudes toward sexual violence at the Citizen Lab in his letter. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely, are committed to ongoing internal dialogue, and aim to be responsive to feedback from our community,” Deibert writes. “This incident highlights that there is much work to be done to counter a toxic culture of sexual discrimination, harassment, and violence in many areas of the tech community, and we are fully committed to that fight.”

Focused on global security research and development, the Citizen Lab is based out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at U of T. The Citizen Lab has hosted the Cyber Dialogue conference annually since 2011. The conference invites private and public voices to discuss cyberspace security and governance.

Editor’s Note (October 23): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the alleged sexual assault occurred at the Citizen Lab event. In fact, the alleged sexual assault coincided with the Citizen Lab event. 

UTSU board impeaches Akshan Bansal at emergency meeting

Third round of hiring to select new vice president campus life

UTSU board impeaches Akshan Bansal at emergency meeting

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors voted to impeach Akshan Bansal, its former vice president, campus life from both the Executive Committee and the board. UTSU president Ben Coleman moved to impeach Bansal at an emergency meeting on December 30. The motion to remove Bansal from the UTSU Executive Committee passed with 24 votes in favour, two against, one abstention, and one spoiled ballot.

Immediately following the impeachment, the UTSU Executive Committee released a statement encouraging students to hold them to account. “It is important that, as the leaders of the UTSU, executives uphold the mission and values of the organization. We therefore encourage our members to continue to hold their elected leaders to account,” read part of the statement.

Bansal was impeached after a public allegation of sexual assault came to the attention of the UTSU executives on December 14. In the hours following the circulation of the allegation, the UTSU released a statement calling for Bansal’s impeachment and condemning rape culture on campus. The statement was signed by five of the seven UTSU executives.

Uranranebi Agbeyegbe, president of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and UTMSU designate on the UTSU’s Executive Committee, did not sign off on the original letter calling for Bansal’s impeachment. Instead, the UTMSU published a statement on December 22 calling for an investigation into the allegation against Bansal.

Agbeyegbe declined to comment for this story.

According to Jasmine Denike, UTSU vice president external, the allegation was a “tipping point,” but not the sole reason behind the impeachment; rather, it was the result of several complaints regarding Bansal’s job performance. “We don’t wish him ill and we wish him all the best, but we wanted to make sure students feel safe on campus. That is our first priority,” Denike said.

Previous complaints received by the UTSU’s Executive Review Committee (XRC) included claims that Bansal made sexist and sexual comments and was inebriated at work. The XRC investigated the grievances over the summer and recommended that Bansal be placed on probation, but did not recommend impeachment.

Immediately after the meeting at which he was impeached, Bansal told The Varsity that he was distraught.

A new vice president, campus life will be selected to fulfil the office for the remaining four months of the term. A hiring committee comprised of UTSU executives, with the possible addition of one or two UTSU board members, will be responsible for the appointment and will conduct interviews for the position after the January 15 application deadline.

This round of applications marks the third time that the hiring process for the position of vice president campus life has been opened this academic year. Denike noted that this time, the hiring process will be an improvement upon the previous two, where concerns were raised about the disproportionately low number of board members present.