Lisa White: ‘This is an office for everybody — students, faculty or staff’
After serving a year as interim director, Lisa White was named director of the Office of Rights and Responsibilities in October 2018.
White earned a BA in political science from Concordia in 2012 and began at the office as an associate advisor the next year. Over the previous decade, she had gained extensive experience with the Concordia Student Union (CSU) Advocacy Centre in various advising capacities.
“An advisory search committee was struck to review applications, conduct interviews and, ultimately, recommend the appointment of a new director of the Office of Rights and Responsibilities,” says Frederica Jacobs, Concordia’s secretary-general and general counsel.
“This committee met with several candidates and unanimously recommended Lisa — I am confident that she will make an excellent director.”
Where we really add value is our careful consideration of all circumstances in any given situation
Can you please describe what the Office of Rights and Responsibilities does?
Lisa White: The office focuses mainly on applying and administering Concordia’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities and other related policies, such as those regarding harassment and sexual harassment and threats of violence.
We assist any university member in addressing a behavioural concern on campus or even off campus as long as it relates to university life. That means that we often deal with concerns or complaints related to harassment or discrimination, or threats of violent conduct.
When appropriate, we look for ways to de-escalate and resolve conflict informally, before any formal complaint is made. Often there is room for creative solutions, particularly at the early stages of the process.
We are also committed to education and outreach. We want people to know about their options and to feel comfortable in coming to us with their concerns.
I want people to know — and where we really add value — is our careful consideration of all circumstances in any given situation. We have policies and procedures, and it’s important to be consistent in our response to complaints, but we are not offering one-size-fits-all approaches.
Our partnerships are also key in this work. We have to — and we’re happy to — work closely with Campus Security, the Sexual Assault Resource Centre, Human Resources, Counselling and Psychological Services and the Office of the Provost and VP, Academic Affairs, among others. These partnerships allow us to develop customized solutions to behavioural situations and conflicts.
You started in advocacy with the CSU in 2005. How did you become interested in advocacy?
LW: I grew up in an environment that was focused on social justice and human rights. My mother was a community organizer. It was normal for me to engage with certain questions at a very young age: are people being treated fairly? Are their voices being heard?
It was very natural for me when I came to Concordia to approach the CSU Advocacy Centre.
Have you seen a change in the type of questions that come to the Office of Rights and Responsibilities over the last few years?
LW: As is the case elsewhere, over the last few years, awareness and sensitivity have evolved considerably regarding sexual violence and now, more and more individuals feel empowered to come forward and report any type of misconduct.
Another example of change stems from cyberbullying. Today, it’s understood that you no longer have to be in the same physical space with someone to perpetuate harassment. You can do it online or through text messaging.
How do you see the Office of Rights and Responsibilities playing a role regarding these and other evolving issues?
LW: In my opinion, education and training are an integral part of avoiding many unwanted behaviours. Together with other university resources, the Office of Rights and Responsibilities has a critical role to play in that regard.
Creating safe places for disclosures and making resources available are also key. The office is just one such resource where a complainant will be supported and encouraged to seek out any other appropriate resources. These same resources are also there to support third parties who come forward to report behaviour that they consider to be problematic.
You’ve been with the Office of Rights and Responsibilities since 2013. Now that you’ve become director, what excites you most about your new position?
LW: If I had to pick just one thing that excites me most for the future, it would be our ability to communicate to the community that this is an office for everybody, whether they’re a student, faculty member or staff member. We are committed to finding solutions in what can be very difficult situations.
Visit Concordia's Office of Rights and Responsibilities website for more information.