Sexual Assault Resource Centre to open
Mindful of the well-being of members of the university community, Concordia will establish a sexual assault resource centre this fall on its downtown campus. The centre will serve as a free, confidential resource for students, staff and faculty, providing educational resources, counselling and expert referral services.
“We felt it was necessary that Concordia provide services that specifically deal with sexual assault, given the high rate of sexual assaults on campuses across Canada,” says CGA staff member Bianca Mugyenyi, who worked with her colleague, Julie Michaud, to draw attention to the need for the service.
On its website, Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA) cites research that states one in four university students experiences sexual assault over the course of a post-secondary career, and that 80 per cent of the survivors are women.
More than 350 students took up the cause, signing a CGA petition calling for the creation of a sexual assault centre on campus, and the campaign received strong support from student groups, including the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Graduate Student Association (GSA). “We felt we had a mandate to say that this is what students want,” Mugyenyi says.
The university was certainly receptive to the idea, says Dean of Students Andrew Woodall. But the complexity of an issue that touches on various administrative departments (including Health Services, Security, Counselling and Development, the Office of Rights and Responsibilities, and Legal Counsel) required serious consideration of how the centre would be integrated into existing response structures.
“We know the issue is important; it has always been important. But we had to figure out where to start building the trust and the relationships to move forward,” Woodall says.
“Getting to this point is a testament to the goodwill of multiple members of our campus community,” says Brad Tucker, associate vice-president, Student and Enrolment Services. “The key benefit, however, will be in the centre’s outreach and in its service to survivors.”
The new Sexual Assault Resource Centre will operate within Student and Enrolment Services under the umbrella of Counselling and Development. It will be staffed by a social worker, who will meet with survivors and coordinate the activities of student volunteers.
The students will provide peer support to survivors, and help with outreach and education initiatives. “A lot of our current volunteers at the CGA have already expressed their interest in volunteering with the Sexual Assault Resource Centre,” Michaud says.
“The more that students are involved, the more that there will be the genuine creation of a culture of consent at Concordia,” Mugyenyi adds.
Since students and student groups played a key role in the centre’s realization, their continued involvement will be key to the centre’s success, Woodall says. “This is a collaboration. We will have an advisory committee, with students providing input, which is important.”
Howard Magonet, director of Counselling and Development, says the centre’s incoming director will have to hit the ground running. “They’ll be doing a lot of outreach, meeting with students and student groups, creating sensitization and campus-awareness programs, and meeting with community resources,” he says, adding that his own office has already begun some initial community outreach.
“Our community partners, such as the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre, are all very happy that we’re doing this, and said that they would be happy to support us in any way they can.”
Incoming CSU President Melissa Kate Wheeler, who was involved in supporting the campaign for the new centre, says the realization of the centre is a “wonderful example of how students at a university and people who work for the university can work together on something that benefits the university as a whole.”
Wheeler says her team of student politicians plans to throw its support behind the centre once it opens. “We’d like to focus on promoting it, and making sure that the service is used.”