CIUT radio: the voice for everyone who doesn’t complain

U of T radio station’s treatment of host Jamaias DaCosta reveals faulty policies and anti-Indigenous sentiment

CIUT radio: the voice for everyone who doesn’t complain

Earlier in March, The Varsity reported on allegations made by Jamaias DaCosta, an Indigenous CIUT radio host who was suspended in February. DaCosta claimed that CIUT had mishandled her sexual harassment complaint and suspended her for criticizing the radio station on the air.

According to DaCosta, an unnamed CIUT host, “behaved inappropriately toward her, including touching her, coming into the studio drunk, and calling her names like ‘sugar.’”

DaCosta also claims that CIUT repeatedly violated her confidentiality, first by sharing her name in an email with the accused to thank them for their patience during the investigation, and again when she was named as the complainant in the case during the CIUT Board of Directors meeting in January.

The accused in DaCosta’s sexual harassment case has since been suspended. DaCosta herself was suspended after criticizing the station and media coverage of Colten Boushie’s death and the trial of his killer, and the media coverage of Tina Fontaine’s death.

CIUT’s behavior in this situation is unacceptable, and the station’s staff have offered no apology to DaCosta or even any kind of satisfactory explanation for their actions.

First, they violated DaCosta’s privacy by sharing her name with the Board of Directors and with the person she is accusing of sexual harassment in the first place. Then, they offered half-hearted excuses as to why this happened.

Finally, they gave contradictory explanations about the reasons for DaCosta’s suspension from the station — all of which ironically seem to centre on the fact that DaCosta was criticizing how the media, CIUT included, treats Indigenous people.

When CIUT President Steve Fruitman was asked about DaCosta’s complaints, he stated, “There’s been no breach from our side. No members have seen our agendas. No members have seen our minutes.”

Essentially, Fruitman seems to be admitting that he showed DaCosta’s complaint to the Board with her name revealed as the accuser, but with the excuse that the members haven’t seen the agendas or minutes.

Either Fruitman is saying the Board’s minutes and agendas are not accessible to members, showing a lack of transparency on the part of the board, or he is admitting that DaCosta’s name and complaint were, in fact, made available to the members, but that they haven’t seen it. Fruitman’s dismissal of DaCosta’s concerns is also flippant, and seems to suggest he doesn’t take them very seriously.

Further criticisms can be directed at CIUT’s failure to enforce their sexual harassment policy in the case of DaCosta’s complaint. The policy states that investigations should be wrapped up in a timely manner — preferably around a month — yet DaCosta’s complaint has been ongoing since November 2017.

Fruitman stated that the station acted immediately in response to DaCosta’s complaint, but offered no explanation for the delay.

It should also be noted that CIUT’s policy itself might be in need of review due to its age — Fruitman suggested that most of CIUT’s policies, including this one, date back to 1988. While Fruitman did acknowledge that parts of the policy needed to be improved, he also stated that most of CIUT’s policies “are good for almost forever… They’re just basic rules we’ve always had, since 1988.”

Any policy dealing with a sensitive issue like sexual harassment probably will not be good for ‘almost forever,’ and clearly the policy could be improved, or at least needs to come with more teeth in terms of enforcement, as it has been months since the initial complaint and little has been resolved.

CIUT’s decision to suspend DaCosta is also unacceptable. The supposed reasoning behind DaCosta’s suspension was that she discussed the trial of Boushie’s killer on air.

In an email to DaCosta, station manager Ken Stowar stated, “The comment [that DaCosta made] was such that CIUT-FM could be held criminally responsible for interfering with the rights of an individual for a fair trial.”

Setting aside the issue of whether DaCosta could in fact be charged under the Criminal Code for her comments, which remains unclear, it is problematic in principle that she as an Indigenous person was censored, for daring to speak critically about how the criminal justice system handled the deaths of Boushie and of Fontaine, both Indigenous youths.

However, it turns out that the real reason DaCosta was suspended, according to her suspension email, was due to “disparaging comments made on air and online… about CIUT and its board of directors.”

On the same show that she made her comments about Boushie, DaCosta also noted that while CIUT presents itself as a “safe space,” it does not actually function as one, and is thus not fulfilling its role as a community radio station.

The official suspension email DaCosta received from CIUT, unlike the one sent to her by Stowar, did not mention her comments about Boushie’s killer at all.  

The lesson here, for DaCosta and for everyone watching this case, is that criticism of student media, or even commentary on current events, is unacceptable if it goes against the ideals of the media organization. As someone who expresses my opinion in student media on a regular basis, I am particularly appalled by these actions.

Student media, like all media, needs to be held accountable. There are already so few spaces for Indigenous students to express their opinions in a public forum, and CIUT is seemingly taking away one of them because DaCosta has criticized the station.

CIUT’s treatment of DaCosta’s sexual harassment complaint is one example of many. In January, a crowdsourced survey from The Professor is In revealed at least 16 instances of sexual harassment at U of T, mostly among graduate students being harassed by professors. The results of this survey arguably represent only a sample of a larger body of complaints, many of which never see the light of day.

When victims of sexual harassment see cases like DaCosta’s, still governed by a policy that hasn’t been updated since the 80s and that isn’t properly enforced, it’s no wonder that they may be reluctant to come forward.

If CIUT is so proud of its policies, including those on sexual harassment, it needs to actually enforce them. And if things go wrong, the correct response is to offer an apology to the victims — a genuine one — instead of making vague excuses and suspending them for expressing their opinions.

Adina Heisler is a third-year student at University College studying Women and Gender Studies and English. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.

The UTGSU has a role to play in sexual assault prevention

The results of The Professor Is In’s survey reveals holes in U of T’s approach to addressing sexual assault of graduate students

The UTGSU has a role to play in sexual assault prevention

The Professor Is In, a graduate student advice website, recently revealed 16 anonymous cases of sexual harassment at the University of Toronto, in which graduate students were targeted by their academic mentors. In the same survey, it was revealed that, allegedly, none of the perpetrators suffered any academic consequences, even in cases where the abuse had been reported.

Dependent on advisers to further their careers, students can be left powerless and unwilling to report abuse in fear of the repercussions to their academic reputations. While some of these relationships can develop into mentorships or friendships, the fact that one party is in a position of power is crucial to understanding why harassment occurs.

At the same time, the resources available for addressing sexual assault at the university are not sufficiently tailored to graduate students’ specific concerns. Some respondents to the survey reported being told that staying silent would be best for their careers in the long-term and that reporting a specific harasser might only work to tarnish their reputations rather than resulting in any reprimands for the abuser.

While the new Tri-Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre offers some useful services, it also has limited operating hours that hinder its accessibility, especially for graduate students who may have heavy workloads and whose hectic schedules may not allow them to access these services.

A better option for graduate students, in that sense, would be the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), a body tasked specifically with representing graduate students’ interests. The UTGSU should ensure that students do not face undue harm to their academic careers as a result of the actions of their harassers, and should pursue provisions to prevent superiors from refusing or neglecting to support students who experience abuse.

According to The Professor Is In, one student reported increasingly violent verbal and written harassment from her supervisor after refusing his advances, to the point where she did not publish her thesis in order to avoid further contact. The student also did not receive a recommendation from her supervisor, and she cites what happened to her as one reason she was forced to prematurely end her academic career.

One way to meet graduate students’ needs might be to establish an internal body specifically tasked with providing support for graduate students in circumstances like these. Using the university’s new Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment for guidance may help the union establish a centre that makes up for a lack of specialized professional and peer-to-peer services on campus.

Systematically establishing safe spaces for graduate students is a necessary step the UTGSU must take to support students who have faced sexual harassment. Graduate students need the support of the UTGSU to address violence that originates from within the U of T community.

In a response to The Varsity’s request for comment, the UTGSU provided the following response: “It is not always clear for our Members who choose to pursue support services on campus how to navigate their situation because a majority of them are governed by both The University of Toronto policies and labour union policies. We encourage students to come forward and speak to one of our Executives and a full-time UTGSU staff person who offers confidential support and institutional resources. In addition, over the past few years, the UTGSU has participated in ongoing consultations in regards to the Sexual Violence Policy, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre as well as the training modules, which launched earlier this month.”

Supporting the well-being of students over maintaining the reputations of staff, partnered with a concentrated effort to establish a safe and supportive space for students to report and address sexual harassment, will immensely benefit women working in academia. In the long run, these changes will go toward establishing academia as a safe and inclusive space, dispelling any environmental or community-based stigmas that might prevent female academics from furthering their careers.

Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying History and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.

Editor’s Note (February 12): This article has been updated to clarify that it is the author’s opinion that the UTGSU should ensure that students do not face undue harm to their academic careers as a result of the actions of their harassers. The UTGSU is not necessarily able to do this, as a previous version of this article suggested. 

This article has been updated to include the quote provided by the UTGSU to The Varsity prior to the article’s publication. 

A previous version of this article stated that graduate students interact with professors more so than undergraduate students. This sentence has been removed given the difficulty in quantifying graduates’ interactions with professors versus undergraduates’ interactions with professors. 

Sexual harassment accusations in survey represent one fight in a long battle

Re: “Online survey details 16 accusations of sexual harassment at U of T”

Sexual harassment accusations in survey represent one fight in a long battle

The problem with anonymously reporting sexual abuse — where neither the accused nor the accuser is named — is that it does not hold the perpetrators accountable. This allows sexual harassment to be recurrent and yet remain unacknowledged institutionally. As the #MeToo movement has taken on a life of its own, women in various workplaces, including in academia, have found themselves able to publicly share stories of sexual harassment. A student advice website founded by former professor Karen Kelsky, The Professor Is In, created a crowdsourced survey that brought several sexual harassment cases within the University of Toronto to light.

The aim of this survey, however, appears not to have been revealing the identity of the harassers but revealing the problem and scale of violence in universities in general. While this is a noble idea that allows us to document the extent of sexual violence that survivors endure in academia without shaming and humiliating them, the anonymity of the survey also lets the harassers go virtually unexposed and unpunished.

Academia remains a field in which the lines of informality and formality between students and professors are often difficult to ascertain. While we can hold our heads high and know that there are more women coming into academia and challenging the patriarchal hierarchy, the results of the survey show that 15 of the 16 U of T accusations were made against male professors by female graduate students.

Inclusion of women in academia, workplaces, and political positions is important and necessary, but it is certainly not enough. To tackle the hierarchy and to bring about true equality, the institutions and the cultural and behavioural attitudes of their members will have to change.

While the survey was an important step in identifying and acknowledging the fact that sexual harassment does, in fact, occur on this campus, it is merely a first step toward solving the problem itself, and it should be accompanied by institutional policies targeted toward accountability and discipline.

 

Shazre Khan is a fourth-year student at Woodsworth College studying Political Science and Ethics, Society and Law.