Strengthening our Policy against Sexual Violence: A University-wide initiative

Prof. Angela Campbell writes about proposed revisions to McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence

McGill is deeply committed to ensuring our campuses are safe, respectful, and inclusive and this includes striving to be a University free from acts of sexual violence. This is one of the most difficult and important topics for all universities. Effectively addressing sexual violence requires many approaches, some of which are about education, outreach and training, some are oriented toward a culture shift, and some must focus on having strong policies in place.

McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence was adopted unanimously in 2016 by Senate and the Board of Governors. Through it, McGill explicitly denounces sexual violence in all forms. It further commits to providing robust support to survivors, notably through our Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support, & Education (OSVRSE).

This Policy is now undergoing a review so that it will be even stronger. Since October, a working group composed of faculty, students and staff has met to develop revisions to the Policy. This has been a robust, thoughtful, and collaborative process.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of this working group, a revised version of the Policy is ready to be shared with the McGill community for feedback. Please take some time to read the revised Policy and provide your views at this site(feedback may be provided anonymously). Your comments will inform further amendments to the Policy before it is presented to Senate in February for discussion, and then in March for approval.

The following are some of the key changes you will see in the revised Policy:

  • Ban on Romantic/Sexual Relationships between Teaching Staff and Their Students

The revised Policy would ban sexual and romantic relationships between teaching staff and students under their academic influence or authority (e.g., as an instructor, supervisor, examiner, thesis committee member, or advisor). In addition, romantic and sexual relationships between teaching staff and students within the same Faculty must be disclosed immediately by the teaching staff member in accordance with the Regulation on Conflict of Interest to ensure that the interests of students are protected.

  • Central Reporting Site – Special Investigator

The new Policy requires all reports of sexual violence to be investigated by a Special Investigator who must be: independent, impartial, and a trained expert in trauma-informed investigations and procedural fairness.

Our Special Investigator, Caroline Lemay, was appointed in September and is reachable at: McGill is unique in Quebec in having appointed such an expert to investigate reports of sexual violence.

  • Clear Procedures and Standalone Policy

The revised Policy will now be accompanied by a set of clear and detailed procedures that outline the steps followed in an investigation. These procedures also set precise and strict timelines.

  • Mandatory Education and Training

The revised Policy requires all members of the University community to receive training on sexual violence and our shared role in preventing it. Online education modules will be rolled out this calendar year, beginning with students, then academic staff, followed by administrative and support staff. This web-based training will be complemented by ongoing in-person training offered across our campuses throughout the year.

  • Protecting Survivors and Facilitating Disclosures

The revised Policy is now clear that no one will be disciplined for revealing, when disclosing or reporting an incident of sexual violence, use of alcohol or cannabis in a way that violates a University rule. The Policy also explicitly directs us all to reject myths and stereotypes about sexual violence, for example, that a person can give or imply consent to sexual activity by how they are dressed or by being intoxicated.

Moving Forward

Revisions to the Policy against Sexual Violence will be presented to Senate in the coming weeks. These revisions will reflect a strong, collaborative review process that includes stakeholders from across McGill’s community. Having said this, it is well understood that the adoption of our revised Policy does not mark the end of our work. Rather, sexual violence prevention and response requires ongoing attention and action. Our commitment in that regard is clear and steadfast.

Comments on “Strengthening our Policy against Sexual Violence: A University-wide initiative”

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    I’m glad to see that progress has been made in developing these policies. And I agree with the need to protect all parties as some people may be in a vulnerable situation. However, I have some questions, mainly about how these policies will be put into practice.

    – How will the need to provide protection to individuals be balanced with individuals’ right to privacy? Wasn’t it Pierre Trudeau who said “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”? Will the University need some sort of “relationship police” to check up on suspected banned relationships? This sounds Orwellian.
    – “In addition, romantic and sexual relationships between teaching staff and students within the same Faculty must be disclosed immediately by the teaching staff member”. In practice, how will this work? For example, let’s say Professor X and student Y have a relationship, when do they declare this: after the first date, the first kiss, the first time they have a coffee together, etc.? What if, for one party, that first coffee was… just a coffee but for the other party it was a major step: will this now count as a romantic relationship? And what does “disclosed immediately” mean? After a first kiss, the staff member must run to the department chair and declare his/her love for the other party? I may be nit-picking here but I could see rather complicated situations arising here.
    – The policy specifically discusses relationships between students and teaching staff. But what about non-teaching staff? Could situations arise where relationships between students and non-teaching staff could lead to conflicts of interest, for example, or where a student works under the supervision of said non-teaching staff?
    – “The revised Policy would ban sexual and romantic relationships between teaching staff and students under their academic influence or authority”. At first glance, this makes perfect sense because of the risk of conflict of interest and/or abuse of power in such a relationship. However, there may be some complications when actually applying this policy. For example, if Prof. X and student Y have a “banned” relationship (according to the definition above), what are their choices? They could break off their relationship (which could prove emotionally painful and could leave a lot of awkward feelings, particularly if student Y continues to be under the authority, supervision or influence of Prof X or even just studying in the same academic unit). They could hide their relationship but that defeats the purpose of the policy. They could openly admit their relationship but then what happens next? Does the department chair or Dean of the Faculty force one of the parties to leave that unit? If that’s the case, who is more likely to leave, the student or the professor? I think the student would likely feel compelled to leave in which case the policy that is supposed to protect the student actually ends up hurting him/her the most.
    – What happens if student Y is under the supervision of Prof. X but is having a relationship with Prof. Z who happens to be a friend or research colleague of Prof. X. but belongs to a different Faculty? According to the policy, this is not a “banned relationship” but one could see how it could end up being quite awkward for all parties, especially if the relationship went sour.

    As they say, the devil is in the details. This certainly seems the case with a policy as complex as this one.

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      Angela Campbell, Office of the Provost

      Dear David,
      I’d be pleased to speak to address your questions. Please do not hesitate to reach out to set a time to discuss.

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    Hello, I did not read the policy carefully enough previously. Teaching staff would include teaching assistants. This begs the question of what would happen if a teaching assistant is assigned a class that includes their romantic partner. Would the teaching assistants have to declare relationships with other students prior to applying for TA positions? Has this been discussed with the TA unions?

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