UBC Chancellor Lindsay Gordon was the first to bring up the fiery submission docket from the AMS: Why, he asked, was the submission on “the failures of Policy 131 implementation so scathing?”
“I found that very concerning.”
Other Board members in the meeting nodded along — it seemed to come as a surprise to quite a few, and several made emphatic statements of the Board’s support for tackling the issue of sexual misconduct at UBC. But as high-level a governance body as the Board is, its ability to enforce policy implementation is mostly limited to the fiscal realm.
Just a few weeks after that meeting, the university has incited a flurry of action, on a scale not seen over the last year. In a May interview, Cowin said UBC has recently started the creation of an implementation plan for the policy, a resourcing and recruitment plan, a draft of a one-year evaluation, a stakeholder consultation plan, an education plan as well as an awareness and communications plan.
As part of this emphatic planning, the university hopes to have a set of digital communications ready to blast out to students as a fresh term begins in the fall — Cowin said it will bring “much more cohesion and clarity” to Policy 131 education.
“We see that by the time Board comes around again in September, that we have an expectation that we need to fulfill with respect to those matters,” said Cowin on the timeline of the new plans. “Most importantly, the summer is not just about pushing paperwork, it’s about ensuring that the community is ready for the new academic year to begin.”
In essence, Cowin is optimistic about the future of the policy’s realization, especially going into the fall.
September is integral — according to 2014 research, students are most at risk of a sexual assault during the first year of their studies, and many sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of the school year. Holmes is pushing for an orientation on sexual misconduct and substance abuse for all new students to UBC, an initiative he said they are in active talks with the administration on.
“Those first eight weeks are essential,” he said.
“I know we’re going to be in a very different place than we were last year with respect to education,” said Cowin.
The university is also still examining what the proper governance structure for addressing the issue of sexual violence on campus looks like. According to Holmes, during the sexual violence advisory committee’s second official meeting in April, they had a conversation about potential new advisory committees for both SVPRO and investigations.
“One of the things we’ll be reviewing is whether there needs to be some larger committee or structure to be looking at sexual violence as a whole, as opposed to sexual advisory committees to the different offices including the Okanagan,” he said. “For now, those advisory committees are going to be put into place. Then we have to look at whether there needs to be more of that central structure.”
One advantage of a centralized body, Holmes said, is that it could provide a better forum for pulling in community members and fielding any complaints or issues with Policy 131 that may arise, opportunities that have not previously been clearly available.
Amidst talks of implementation, Policy 131 is also up for its first review, which UBC is committed to conduct one year after the policy came into effect and then every three years following.
“I think that the AMS wasn’t necessarily happy with the characterization that communications and awareness was the only issue … because as much as that is an important issue, there are a lot of other major flaws with this policy,” said Holmes, acknowledging that small gains in communications — such as a very recent update of the SVPRO website — have been taking place.
But he raised concerns regarding the actual document, including the exact definition of third-party reporting and clear parameters with confidentiality and safety.
Administration is currently trying to determine the scale that they want to conduct the impending review on. One option, akin to the original writing of Policy 131, is to conduct a formal, line-by-line review of the policy, which would involve striking a committee, convening legal counsel and presenting drafts for consultation and then Board approval.
The other option, explained Cowin, is to review solely the “procedures” section of the policy. Adjustments to that section would be faster and only require presidential approval.
To make the decision, they are consulting “stakeholders” to identify what the issues are and through which avenue they might be solved.
Holmes is pleased that the administration seems more aware of the issues that students have been bringing up for months, and is taking some action. But along with this tentative positivity, he stands firm on his decision to bring the submission to Board as recently as he did: the issues haven’t been solved, and it took a lot of shouting into the void to get to where they are.
“I do think that the submission was successful in getting a conversation started. We’re happy that the Board of Governors saw that this as an issue that needs to be pushed forward,” he said.
“I think it’s probably unfair to say that we are only reactive,” said Cowin. “It’s certainly never been our intention to be so. And it certainly will not be our way of working moving forward.”
But with her resignation from the role of VP Students on May 9, implementation moving forward will have to be championed by Cowin’s replacement — who will be hired in “a few months,” according to UBC, during which time Cowin will remain in her role — and Thistle as VP Human Resources, who has been at UBC for just over three months. It remains to be seen whether this post-Board flurry of action can be sustained amid personnel changes.
Both the fraternities and the sororities hope to have much more infrastructure in place within the next few months, with the aim that future generations of Greeks will come into their new social sphere with more awareness and knowledge than before.
Through Gagnon and Gill, the Greek system is working with SASC to create their own educational programming.
In an email to The Ubyssey in early May, Kachouh confirmed that SASC has had meetings with Greek leadership to discuss the resource centre’s hosting of workshops, ideally for every Greek member.
“We’re really excited about the collaboration with the new execs,” said Kachouh, “and are hopeful in it continuing to move the conversation forward in a way that challenges rape culture and create cultures of consent not just at Fraternities and Sororities, but throughout UBC.”
According to Gagnon, the Panhellenic Council’s action plan, to be worked on over the summer, will be firmly in place and set the tone for the coming academic year. She also hopes to continue establishing relationships with SVPRO and SASC.
“As a long-term goal — this will go far beyond my term — I would love to see, within the UBC community, a culture of consent and a survivor-centric culture,” said Gagnon.
Just as the Greeks are creating internal policies and procedures to fill gaps that UBC’s Policy 131 doesn’t, so are other groups on campus.
CiTR Radio, whose main hub sits in the basement of the student Nest, is working on its own policy as well.
“We provide opportunity for personal development and professional experimentation and access to all of these different aspects of an underground culture, and we really care deeply about the safety of the people who we give that access to,” said Madeline Taylor, CiTR’s programming manager and the person that initiated the creation of their policy. She explained that CiTR is a station inclusive to both UBC students and community members, and so Policy 131’s jurisdiction to investigate — which says that “the allegations must be made against an individual who was a Member of the UBC Community at the time of the alleged Sexual Misconduct and at the time the Report was submitted” — may not always apply.
“I saw a huge gap in clear steps for us to take [in case of allegations against a non-UBC student],” she said.
The CiTR policy will be ready for September — said Taylor in a subsequent email, “the emphasis is on doing it right.”
Holmes is looking inward, at the AMS’s own structures. The AMS recently convened a Sexual Violence Prevention and Respectful Environment Policy working group (SVPREP) to look at a variety of sexual misconduct-related issues, such as re-examining the AMS’s existing respectful environment policy — which currently mentions harassment, but not sexual violence specifically — outlining clearer procedures that align with Policy 131 and seeing which UBC gaps that the AMS might fill.
“The AMS has recognized that we have our own internal issues when it comes to sexual violence,” said Holmes, citing their responsibility over AMS subsidiaries like clubs and constituencies.
Holmes will chair the group, which also includes VP Administration Chris Hakim, two SASC staff members, the AMS human resources manager, a councillor and a constituency executive.
“I think that’s what’s going to be first and foremost with this: what can we do that’s going to be best for all of the students that put their trust within the AMS and all of these subsidiary organizations,” said Holmes.
Looking external to the university, under the leadership of former VP External Sally Lin, the AMS sent the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training a submission in response to the ministry’s call for feedback for their “Prevent Sexual Violence: BC Provincial Consultation and Engagement Campaign.”
In partnership with SASC and the National Our Turn organization, the AMS created a list of nine core recommendations that it believes should form the minimum standards for post-secondary sexual misconduct policies, implemented through provincial mandate or guidance.
Many of those recommendations mirror complaints already voiced by students: making sexual misconduct policies prevail over other policies, for instance academic concession policies; clarifying university jurisdiction to explicitly take into consideration the survivor’s choice of when to disclose, since currently Policy 131 mandates that the accused must be a currently involved with UBC; mandating sexual violence training for “any institutional member with adjudication or decision-making powers” as well as potential recipients of disclosure; and including an immunity clause for drugs and alcohol use so that survivors are encouraged to report, without fear that they themselves will be penalized.
The aim, said Lin, is not only to encourage the province to do more, but to express to UBC the importance of these issues and to push tangible change on campus.
“While we are thankful that the government has undergone this consultation prior to the one year anniversary [of Bill 23], we are also going to be actively looking forward to look at ways to identify challenges within implementation at UBC, and communicating that to government in a strategic manner,” said Lin.
The submission also recommended that the province provide targeted funding to back Bill 23, citing Quebec’s investment of $23 million over 5 years towards countering sexual violence in post-secondary institutions as an example. Every school in BC has put the required policy in place, but recently The Globe and Mail published a piece that identified huge disparities in the support systems at various universities with these new policies, which some attribute to the lack of baseline funding from the government.
“Carrying out these efforts in a trauma-informed manner is a complex undertaking which requires a significant investment of time and experience at campuses across the province,” reads the submission.
“Yes, focussing on UBC is very important, and ensuring the implementation goes properly here — however, sexual violence is an issue at all post-secondary institutions, and it’s something that goes very much beyond this campus,” said current VP External Cristina Ilnitchi.
She hopes to continue Lin’s work and advocacy for increased provincial support.
“Where my kind of role comes in is to ensure that if the university isn’t responding to our feedback and student consultation, that we can put pressure on them from other bodies, like the province who mandated this policy,” said Ilnitchi.
Advanced Education, Skills and Training Minister Melanie Mark declined an interview to comment on the AMS submission, but sent The Ubyssey an email statement.
“We know that many survivors of sexual violence are reluctant to come forward. Students, faculty and staff need to know there are policies in place that outline the process for what to do in the event of an incident and the supports that are available,” Mark said in the statement.
She also cited the public engagement campaign that Lin sent the AMS submission to, meant to gather feedback on BC universities’ sexual misconduct policies. According to Mark’s statement, that campaign received 370 submissions before the January 29 deadline.
“We want to use feedback to ensure we have a strong policy framework in place that centres on the health, safety and wellbeing of our post-secondary community,” the statement reads.
Holmes is pleased with the work that students are doing, but wants to see more from the university regardless.
“The AMS can bring forward the student perspective, but we shouldn’t have a greater understanding [than the university] of how this isn’t working within the different units at UBC,” he said. “But that was the circumstance earlier in this year. And I think moving forward the university needs to be diligent and needs to pay attention.”
Holmes does acknowledge that he is uniquely positioned within student governance to critique UBC, an opportunity that not all students have.
“It’s easy for me to be able to air my woes with UBC. It’s not easy for the average community member to know how are they supposed to.”
Crucially, he said, the university needs to make a more active effort to create spaces where the voices of survivors can come forward. Even consulting with those in charge of SVPRO and other groups might not be enough — it’s about fostering an environment where students who might not otherwise be comfortable speaking are encouraged to.
Holmes, Doering, Gagnon, Kachouh and Mack, among many others, circle back to the same basic point: the institution is not doing exactly nothing, but it could always be doing more to reverse its own cultures, its own damage.
“We’re now at this point where we have to understand that, as we don’t succeed to implement this policy, that there are people who are hurt at the end of the day,” said Holmes.
Mack feels this same urgency, while also recognizing that sexual violence on university campuses is an issue where “progress” is all relative. In order to see any, the underlying culture needs to constantly and persistently be shifted.
Choosing to speak out about her experience, she said, is hopefully just the first step in her efforts to reframe the campus conversation.
“There’s so much more that needs to happen for victims that’s not in place,” said Mack. “And I felt so let down by so many people, which I why I started opening up about what happened to me.”