First adopted by the University in 2005, the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination is reviewed at least every three years by a working group that conducts a broad and extensive consultation process. McGill‘s Board of Governors approved the latest policy revisions, on the recommendation of McGill‘s Senate, at its meeting of May 20, 2021. The revised policy is available on the Secretariat website.
Among the revisions is the creation of the Office for Mediation and Reporting (OMR), dedicated to the independent and impartial oversight of the resolution of reports of harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence.
“The OMR is a continuation of work that has already existed at the University,“ says Sinead Hunt, the office‘s associate director. She has served as McGill‘s Senior Equity and Inclusion Advisor (SEIA) since 2018. “As SEIA, I would receive formal reports filed through the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination, train the assessors who carried out investigations on a monthly basis, assign cases, and answer questions from the community.“
In 2019, the University revised its Policy Against Sexual Violence, which until then hadn‘t offered a reporting mechanism. Hunt‘s role expanded to include receiving formal reports filed under this policy as well.
The new OMR is tied to both those policies—McGill‘s Policy on Harassment and Discrimination and McGill‘s Policy against Sexual Violence—offering “more structure, more capacity, more resources,“ says Hunt, with a mandate to be “a central site where any University community member can file a formal report of harassment, discrimination, or sexual violence.“
Her team responds to inquiries, receives formal reports (under both the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination and Policy Against Sexual Violence), talks people through the processes and points them to support services and other relevant resources, offers mediation and investigation services, and delivers training to the University community.
Although the OMR has a focus on reporting, it‘s important to note that any member of the McGill community can still contact the Office for Sexual Violence Support, Response and Education (OSVRSE) for support or consultation regardless of whether they file a formal report. The OSVRSE provides direct support to anyone impacted by sexual violence; coordinates safety measures and access to further medical or psychological services; helps with academic, housing, or workplace accommodations; and provides information on reporting processes both on and off campus. Appointments at OSVRSE can be booked by emailing email@example.com, or by calling 514-398-3954.
Boosting mediation capacity
The other main component of the OMR mandate is, as the name implies, mediation. “We‘re really boosting capacity around our ability to offer parties the opportunity to resolve a conflict in a manner that feels fair to them with the help of a qualified neutral third party,” says Hunt. Parties enter mediation on a voluntary basis, meaning that they enter the process in good faith and can choose to end their participation at any time.
“It is empowering for the individuals involved in the sense that the parties choose both the process—e.g., face-to-face mediation or indirect mediation – and ultimately a resolution that works for them. The mediator is there to structure and support a process that feels safe, respectful, and constructive for all involved, but does not decide the outcome – that is for the parties themselves to determine.“
The working group that recommended the revisions included representation from all faculty/staff associations and unions and student associations.
“Students are key stakeholders with a vested interest in improving the Policy, and by including student voices in the revision working group, the revision process could be informed by their lived experiences,“ says Brooklyn Frizzle, 2020-2021 Vice-President (University Affairs) of the Students‘ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and a member of the working group. “Stakeholders like students and staff are often the first to notice when a Policy is in need of revision. When Policies do not include a mandate for periodic review, it becomes the responsibility of the executive sponsor to determine when it should be revised…. [but] the executive sponsors simply don‘t interact with these Policies in the same way that students will. It becomes a matter of both institutional accountability and good governance, then, that all University Policies undergo regular revisions.“
Heleena De Oliveira, who also served as a student representative on the working group, agrees. “A policy informed by the experiences and ideas of all members of McGill university, including its students is a necessity,” says the outgoing president of the McGill Black Students’ Network. “Most importantly, the student experience is also a unique one, particularly in circumstances where students experience instances of harassment or discrimination by individuals who hold authority over them…. Student voices must be reflected in this plan if the university truly desires to eliminate systemic forms of harassment and discrimination.
“Establishing periodic reviews of this policy will demonstrate McGill’s commitment to change and to centering equity and inclusion as the focal points of this institution.”
Other policy revisions
In addition to the creation of the OMR, the key revisions to the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination are:
- The appointment of designated assessors who are employees or on contract with McGill and who have the expertise necessary to conduct investigations
- The extended scope of the Policy to allow for confidential and/or third-party reporting
- The extension of time delay for filing a report, from 12 to 24 months
- Granting permission for former students to file a report if they do so within the time delay
- The removal of the requirement that a reporting party must not concurrently file through another internal or external recourse
- An extended definition of “Report“ and “Reporter,“ to allow persons within research institutes and McGill-affiliated hospitals to file reports under the present Policy
“By recognizing the value of student input [to the revision process], we were able to come up with solutions and improve the Policy in ways that neither the University nor students could have found alone,“ says SSMU‘s Frizzle.
In April of 2020, the SSMU Legislative Council published a list of concerns with the previous version of the Policy. “I‘m happy to say that many of the concerns have since been resolved,“ says Frizzle. “In particular, the establishment of the Office for Mediation and Reporting will go a long way to bolster the University‘s capacity to respond to and adequately resolve complaints.“
De Oliveira of the McGill Black Students’ Network calls the creation of the OMR “probably the most important amendment that has been made to the policy thus far.” She applauds “the appointment of designated assessors with the expertise to carry out investigations” as an important improvement for supporting individuals who come forward with complaints of harassment and/or discrimination, and one of particular potential “benefit Black students who come forward with complaints…. I hope that as the plan continues to be amended, we observe further changes made for the benefit of marginalized students at McGill.”
“The revision of the Policy‘s scope to include whole units and offices of the University is perhaps the most welcomed change for students that have experienced systemic harassment or discrimination,“ adds SSMU’s Frizzle. “Lastly, the adaptation of the Policy to accommodate confidential and third-party complaints will enable students, who might have otherwise feared reprisal, to access support.“