Concordia University

http://www.concordia.ca/content/concordia/en/about/administration-governance/office-provost-vp-academic-affairs/task-force/report.html

Report of the task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence


Introduction


Alan Shepard, President of Concordia, announced the establishment of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence in January 2018 as part of a coordinated response to allegations of sexual misconduct at the university.

The task force began its work in March 2018 with weekly meetings that focused on reviewing relevant university policies and procedures, relevant legislation and presentations from key members and units of the university community. Through these meetings and presentations, along with a survey, community conversations and open calls for feedback from stakeholders, the task force was able to identify common themes and establish priorities.

The recommendations in this report fall into the following five key areas:

  1. Policies and Procedures
  2. Training and Education
  3. Support and Services
  4. Communications
  5. Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence

Given the university’s commitment to addressing sexual misconduct and sexual violence, it is important for us to be self-reflective, and open to change. The task force recommendations serve as stepping stones to a larger cultural shift that is required to ensure that the community knows how to support victim survivors, that those affected have the tools they need to make informed decisions, and above all to bring about the safest and most flourishing environment possible for the whole Concordia community.

The task force would like to thank all individuals and groups who contributed to this important process.

Lisa Ostiguy, Deputy Provost
Chair, Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence

Nadia Hardy, Vice-Provost, Faculty Relations
Vice-Chair, Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence

Melodie Sullivan, Senior Legal Counsel
Vice-Chair, Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence


Process


On January 10, 2018, President Alan Shepard made an announcement setting out the steps that Concordia University would be taking in response to allegations of sexual misconduct. One of the steps included the creation of a Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence.

Planning

The planning of the task force began immediately with the chair and vice-chairs initiating information-gathering sessions which included meetings with external consultants, discussions with other universities, and reviewing news articles regarding the topic of sexual misconduct and sexual violence as it relates to post-secondary institutions. The chair and vice-chairs of the task force also gave presentations to many units to promote the opportunity to contribute to the task force and to answer any questions related to the mandate or process.

Membership

An open call was issued to invite participation on the task force. Over 130 applicants responded to the call for participants. The task force membership was determined based on the responses, and the respective union groups and representative groups validated the selected candidates. For the undergraduate representatives, the Concordia Student Union appointed the members. The list of task force members can be found in Appendix 1.

Mandate

Mandate of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence:

To consult the Concordia University community about issues and concerns with processes, procedures and policies related to sexual misconduct and sexual violence and the personal and professional boundaries in sexual and romantic relationships between and among faculty, staff and students and to develop recommendations and establish priorities for the university based on these consultations.

Communications

Early on in the process, multiple methods and means were set up for individuals and stakeholder groups to provide feedback to the task force.

The website for the task force was launched on March 14, 2018. The website contains the mandate of the task force, the timeline, the regular progress updates on each meeting and event by date as well as links to important information and resources.

A dedicated email address, taskforce@concordia.ca, was set up and the address was communicated to the community via email and on the website. Community members were asked to send their comments and feedback to the task force via this email. The task force received important information through these emails that served to inform the recommendations. The submissions were shared with the task force at the regular scheduled meetings and were discussed.

Task Force Meetings

The task force met 14 times between March and June 2018. The members consulted Concordia’s policies, Bill 151, the university’s Policy on Sexual Violence, the Consensual Romantic or Sexual Relationships Guidelines, and news articles to help guide discussions. A list of the key information consulted is provided in Appendix 2.

Specific guests were identified and invited by the task force to present to its membership. Selection of guests was based on their position at the university or the role that their department plays in cases of sexual misconduct and sexual violence.

Appendix 3 provides a list of the individuals that visited the task force during scheduled meetings for this purpose. The visits included representatives from Campus Wellness & Support Services, Security, the CSU Advocacy Centre, the International Student’s Office, the Ombuds Office, the Office of Student Tribunals, Records Management and Archives, the Office of Rights and Responsibilities as well as the Dean of Students Office and the Sexual Assault Resource Centre.

Guests were asked to explain their role and how they contribute to or support the processes in place as they relate to cases of sexual misconduct and sexual violence. A question-and-answer period followed each of these presentations. After these visits, the task force members discussed the main points and observations as a group.

Invitation to Stakeholders

On April 17, 2018, an email was sent to a list of stakeholders, as identified by the task force, to request their feedback through an online submission form. The units, associations and governing bodies (Appendix 4) were invited to share their constituency’s views and provide feedback on specific issues related to sexual misconduct and sexual violence.

The task force also invited the community to identify any other relevant stakeholder that may have been missing from the list that should have been included. Reminders to participate were sent out. The information submitted was shared with the task force and discussed during the scheduled meetings.

The task force followed up by inviting guests to discuss the concerns and address issues. Although the information received was important and helped support recommendations that were forming, the response rate was low.

Community Conversations

The task force decided early on that there should be as many ways as possible for the community to participate. One of the identified ways were Community Conversations.

There were six Community Conversations:

SGW Campus – 147 registrations

  • March 28 (for undergraduate students)
  • March 29 (for faculty)
  • April 4 (for graduate students)
  • April 5 (for staff)

Loyola Campus – 42 registrations

  • May 24 – morning session (for undergraduate and graduate students)
  • May 24 – afternoon session (for faculty and staff)

 

The Community Conversations addressed questions developed by the task force (Appendix 5). They were facilitated and organized by Rosemary Reilly, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences, with a team of undergraduate and graduate students.

The format was table discussions with defined questions to start the conversations. The guidelines for the Community Conversations were reviewed and revised by the Task Force beforehand.

The conversations were good opportunities to engage with the community in an interactive way. Ideally, these types of larger communication groups should be continued as a means to connect the community and promote discussion on this topic. The participants in these conversations tended to be engaged and eager to be part of the process.

The facilitation team documented, transcribed, summarized, and submitted the comments to the task force for consideration. The task force reviewed and discussed the facilitation team’s notes.

Survey

The task force approved the use of a survey to consult the community. Members worked with an external survey provider, SOM Research & Surveys to develop the draft questionnaire. Each proposed survey question was reviewed and approved by the members of the task force.

All members of the internal university community received an email inviting them to participate in the online survey. The data collection window was open from April 19 to May 3, 2018. The external survey provider collated and processed the responses. Quantitative and qualitative data was shared and reviewed by the task force.

In total, there were 1595 respondents represented as follows:

  • 937 students (undergraduate and graduate)
  • 232 faculty members
  • 350 staff members

The Executive Summary of the Findings can be found in Appendix 6. A list of highlights from the qualitative questions can be found in Appendix 7.

Written comments

The task force received important information through the designated email that served to inform the recommendations. Sixteen submissions were received by the task force by June 1, 2018.

In its work, the task force reviewed university obligations set out in Bill 151. This Bill, sponsored by Minister Hélène David, was introduced in November 2017. Bill 151 sets out a series of actions that institutions must undertake to prevent and fight sexual misconduct.

In the next two sections, we highlight the consistent themes that emerged from the different channels of communication with the task force. The task force report summarizes the findings and recommendations based on those themes.

[1] Bill 151, An Act to Prevent and Fight Sexual Violence in Higher Education Institutions, 1st Sess, 41st Leg, Quebec, 2017


Findings


The summary of findings reflects the various ways that the task force consulted the community and collected data to form the recommendations. It represents the results of the weekly discussions of the task force.

Policies and Procedures

Many of the written submissions confirmed concerns that were previously highlighted but there were also emails regarding how policies could be changed to safeguard privacy for members of the community, and specific suggestions to improve internal processes in cases of sexual misconduct and sexual violence.

It should also be noted that the general lack of knowledge from the community about the processes as they pertain to the topic of sexual misconduct and sexual violence was a common theme that emerged throughout the task force meetings and information gathering process. This reality was repeated and then validated through many of the different channels of communication that were established thereafter.

The survey responses indicated that the level of familiarity with the policies and resources is very low. This finding was also validated in the stakeholder feedback forms, general comments in community visits and the Community Conversations notes.

The task force noted that there is a considerable gap between the community’s perception and knowledge of the available resources and what in fact is available. Also, the task force noted that the expectations of the community do not align, in many cases, with what is possible (regarding internal and external processes) from a legal and/or jurisdictional point of view.

Training and Education

The main findings corroborated many of the general concerns that were identified at the outset of the task force process. For instance, survey respondents showed a very low level of familiarity (2.5 out of 5) with where to get help should a situation arise regarding sexual misconduct or sexual violence. There was an even lower level of familiarity (2.1 out of 5) with where to file complaints and yet a lower level (2 out of 5) with the processes around reporting an incident.

The Sexual Assault Resource Centre has been operating since November 2013 yet the survey responses indicated a low level of familiarity with that service and the policies and resources in regards to sexual misconduct and sexual violence. These findings strongly support the task force recommendation to create a step-by-step guide for individuals so that they are aware of their options as well as the typical timelines associated with each process.

The Community Conversations on both campuses revealed that training is a key element needed to support the community. In some cases, there appeared to be a lack of knowledge and in other cases a perception that the appropriate level of importance is not given to the topic at the university.

Support and Services

The visits to the task force meetings from members of the community and the survey responses highlighted common areas for improvement in supporting the community. The survey asked respondents to rate their sense of safety at the university and the response was average (3.9 out of 5). When considering the gender specific responses, the sense of safety is quite different among female respondents (3.6) and male respondents (4.3).

One of the main sources of support in cases of sexual misconduct and sexual violence, the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC), presently operates with two staff members and about 11 volunteers on the SGW Campus. There is no designated SARC area or presence on the Loyola Campus.

The survey responses supported the previous findings that the resources need reconsideration, as the availability and sufficiency of resources were perceived as low and the programs were rated insufficient. (Appendix 6, p. 6)

Communications

In the Executive Summary of the survey, results showed a score of 3.1 out of 5 attributed to the university’s perceived attitude towards prevention of sexual misconduct and sexual violence. The discussion of the findings brought the task force to the conclusion that more awareness must be built into the communications and training plans.

The task force wishes to call attention to a topic that came up frequently in the communication channels. Although the university cannot legally forbid consensual sexual or intimate relationships between faculty and adult students, the task force recommends that the university reiterate strongly to faculty and staff that such relationships are strongly discouraged. The onus is on the employee in the position of power to neither solicit nor initiate sexual relationships with students nor to encourage them if students initiate.

It is recognized that students are still in the process of developing their full autonomy and agency. Further, it is emphasized that such relationships are not consistent with the duty of faculty and staff to foster the well-being of Concordia’s students. Such relationships raise grave concerns about imbalances of power, shortcomings in the professional respect owed to students and the ways in which students may be pressured or manipulated by persons in authority.

All channels of communication and input informed the task force’s final recommendations. It should be noted that the task force considers these recommendations not as complete solutions but as steps in the direction of an ever-evolving process of culture change.

As such, there is a recommendation to review the progress in two years to ensure that the needs of all stakeholders are being met and to ensure that we have improved our efforts to support our community in this regard.


Recommendations


The recommendations fall into the following five categories:

  1. Policies and Procedures
  2. Training and Education
  3. Support and Services
  4. Communications
  5. Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence

 

1.  Policies and Procedures

A recurring theme across all of the different communication channels (Community Conversations, survey responses and individual and unit feedback) was that many members of the university had no real knowledge of, or familiarity with, the relevant policies and procedures of the university. This section addresses the knowledge gap and recognizes areas where the university’s policies need improvement.

The task force recommends that:

1.1   the definition of sexual violence in the Policy Regarding Sexual Violence be expanded to include power imbalances and coercion, with specific examples (threats, blackmail, manipulation, etc.);

1.2   all resources (accommodations, support and advocacy services) be made clear to all parties involved in the process including those that might not be obvious in the existing Code of Rights and Responsibilities or are not explicitly listed as possibilities;

1.3   a step-by-step guide for filing complaints be created;

1.4   standardized processes and a form be created for individuals making and/or receiving disclosures;

1.5  stakeholder groups be encouraged to participate in the tribunal process by specifically naming more members to the existing tribunal pools;

1.6   procedures be put in place to address safety and privacy concerns in the various room booking systems throughout the university;

1.7   Concordia’s unions and associations:

  • review elements and processes of their collective agreements that may conflict with the interests and well-being of the university community;
  • commit to changing elements in their collective agreements that currently impose time constraints on reporting and conducting investigations and on the retention of documents in personnel files;
  • reconsider the relevant articles in cases of sexual misconduct and sexual violence;

1.8   stronger language be included in the policies discouraging relationships between employees and students;

1.9   where applicable, investigations into sexual violence and misconduct be conducted by third-party investigators;

1.10   a review of the progress on policies and procedures be conducted every two years.

2. Training and Education

The training and education of the Concordia community should be a top priority. Overall findings from multiple sources indicate a gap in knowledge at the university, so training has been highlighted as a key area going forward.

It is also in the best interest of our community to have informed members with the necessary tools and training who actively listen and direct individuals to the correct resources. The goal is to have a community that is educated about consent and respect. This training would be continuous for all areas of the university. Certain roles within the university would require more targeted or in-depth training.

The basic training for everyone, however, would identify behaviours to avoid, provide information about policies and procedures, present common scenarios, and offer guidance on how to respond to a disclosure.

The task force recommends that:

2.1   all training contains at minimum information on:

  • support services on campus;
  • effective bystander intervention;
  • a step-by-step guide on receiving disclosures;
  • reporting inappropriate abuse of social media in public and private social spaces;
  • recognizing unacceptable behaviour as per the Code of Rights and Responsibilities;
  • reporting and filing complaints as per Concordia’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities and Consensual Romantic or Sexual Relationships Guidelines;
  • recognizing community members in need of support in situations of sexual misconduct and sexual violence;
  • how to report sexual misconduct or sexual violence as a third party;

2.2   training programs in sexual violence prevention and response form an essential element of orientations for all students, faculty and staff with varying models and delivery options covering a range of topics and scenarios;

2.3   regular training be conducted on natural justice and privacy laws in Canada so the community as a whole is more aware of constraints and also aware of the challenges around anonymous complaints and the use of social media in certain situations (survey findings and notes from Community Conversations have indicated there is presently a lack of understanding regarding what the university can communicate publicly when concerns related to individuals are raised related to sexual violence and misconduct);

2.4  student groups and the university coordinate efforts to continue the dialogue on these issues (e.g., offer an ongoing, regularly scheduled series of workshops and speakers on issues of consent, rape culture and the role of alcohol and drug abuse in relation to sexual violence) in order to continue re-shaping the climate and culture of Concordia;

2.5  the mandatory training program be sensitive to intersectional concerns and considerations by acknowledging the particular challenges faced by different members of the community (e.g., people of colour, women, individuals with special needs, religious and cultural minorities, and LGBTQ+) when disclosing and reporting incidents of sexual violence;

2.6   the university ensure the concerns and questions of international students are addressed comprehensively as many of them are reportedly reluctant to speak out about abusive behaviour, and that the International Students’ Office be consulted on best practices for the training delivery for international students;

2.7   the training program be delivered in multiple formats, including online;

2.8   consequences be developed and clear for individuals who do not participate in the training;

2.9   refresher modules and feedback mechanisms be created as part of the training.

3. Support and Services

This category is devoted particularly to SARC, Campus Wellness & Support Services, Office of Rights and Responsibilities, the Ombuds office, and Security.

In the presentations heard by the task force, as well as comments received through the stakeholder submissions and survey responses, the need for improvement in some of the services offered to the community was highlighted.

The task force recommends that:

3.1   a specific service review be conducted to determine the appropriate level of human resources for each of the services connected to sexual misconduct and sexual violence support;

3.2   services be promoted for those who have received disclosures as the task force recognizes that this group may need support after hearing a disclosure;

3.3   the university and students work together to form an employee and student ambassador campaign (i.e. individuals who would get the word out to their community about important services for students, staff and faculty and relay other important information) and that participation in this program should be recognized;

3.4   trained resource persons be identified with distinctive symbols that can help increase their visibility as those who can help or guide (e.g. “Tell Me”, along the lines of “Ask Me”);

3.5   a review be conducted of the services offered on the Loyola Campus in regards to sexual misconduct and sexual violence and that investments be made where needed to ensure that the services are available and adequate;

3.6   in addition to the support through student (service) fees, the university increase its support for SARC for the new or additional services that SARC must provide;

3.7   sensitivity training on the spectrum of sexual misconduct and sexual violence related complaints (including sexual harassment and sexual coercion etc.) be offered for individuals who typically receive disclosures.

4. Communications

As indicated, a common thread in the Community Conversations, the survey results and our visits to different units was the reality of limited knowledge concerning the topic. There is a widespread lack of awareness and knowledge throughout the university community regarding existing policies and procedures, and especially about outcomes that can realistically be expected given the legal limitations and the regulations that govern privacy and access to information for all parties.

The task force recognizes that the problem of sexual misconduct and sexual violence is pervasive and that effective communication is a crucial step towards making the community more aware of the issues and the available support.

The task force recommends that:

4.1   a dedicated hub be created on the website for sexual misconduct and sexual violence information starting immediately so that it will be ready when students start in the Fall term;

4.2   the website contains:

  • the university’s stand-alone Policy regarding Sexual Violence and the consensual romantic or sexual relationship guidelines;
  • an acknowledgment of the phenomenon of rape culture across university campuses;
  • a flowchart that incorporates all resources available to survivors on campus;
  • the step-by-step guide for filing complaints;
  • a clear overview of the laws and policies that govern the internal tribunal process at Concordia (including labour laws);
  • a list of alternative external resources for students who choose to forego the internal process;
  • a Q&A section addressing common questions and misconceptions expressed by participants during the task force’s consultation process;

4.3   whenever possible, the university involve its own talent in designing and developing a visual art campaign to further communicate the message and hub;

4.4   the use of targeted communication strategies for students, faculty and staff and ongoing reviews of how we can more effectively communicate to the different groups on both campuses;

4.5   communications clearly point out and educate the community about the different services available at the SARC and the Office of Rights and Responsibilities;

4.6   the role of the response team, which coordinates services to support survivors, is highlighted in the communications;

4.7   the university proactively and continuously communicates policies and procedures in order to educate the community on services available;

4.8   common text be mandatory on each course syllabus providing information about the university's stance on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, resources available to survivors of sexual violence, as well as a clear enunciation of the conflict of interest regarding employee and student relationships;

4.9   the university’s messaging on the subjects of consent along with the support services available for the community be expanded to strategic locations widely visible on both campuses;

4.10   the development of a proactive communication plan be created that is adapted for each group of stakeholders;

4.11   the university works with student groups in the development of communications on the topic of sexual misconduct and sexual violence.

5. Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence

The mandate of the task force was to consult the Concordia community about issues and concerns with processes, procedures and policies related to sexual misconduct and sexual violence and the personal and professional boundaries in sexual and romantic relationships between and among faculty, staff and students and to develop recommendations and establish priorities for the University based on these consultations.

Bill 151 mandates that all universities create a Standing Committee (Bill 151, An Act to Prevent and Fight Sexual Violence in Higher Education Institutions, 1st Sess, 41st Leg, Quebec, 2017, Ch. II Policy pt. 7).

The Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence will be a representative committee mandated by Bill 151 to revise and implement the university’s Policy regarding Sexual Violence. This committee will be responsible for monitoring both the university’s obligations under Bill 151 as well as the university’s progress on the 2018 task force recommendations. It will also coordinate efforts to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct and sexual violence at the university.

The task force recommends that the Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence consider the following actions:

5.1   develop mechanisms outlining how and when members of the community can raise concerns about the campus environment related to sexual misconduct and sexual violence in specific units (such as the need for a climate review);

5.2   review best practices at other North American universities when implementing any changes to our policies and processes;

5.3   review the “Our Turn” recommendations in conjunction with our policies and processes;

5.4   use the reporting requirements of Bill 151 constructively and share parts of the annual report to the community whenever possible;

5.5   consider creating a working group to focus on training needs and development as well as a review process for training modules.

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