Open Letter

McGill Administration Continues to Fail Survivors of Sexual Assault

An Open Letter to the Administration of McGill University
7 April, 2016

After more than two years of purporting to support a student-driven Sexual Assault Policy at McGill University, the administration is now refusing to bring forward the proposed policy for approval. This pro-survivor, proactive, accessible, and intersectional policy was developed by a student-led working group in consultation with numerous community groups and the McGill administration. The administration’s refusal sends a clear message that McGill does not support survivors of sexual assault and is unwilling to commit the resources required to adequately support survivors and address sexual violence on campus.

The working group has been extensively negotiating with the Dean of Students, Andre Costopoulos, to prepare a final version of the policy to bring to Senate (see Appendix 1, all Appendices found here). In a meeting on March 22 dedicated to the finalization of the policy, Dean Costopoulos and the Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) Angela Campbell informed the working group that they would not bring this policy to Senate (see Minutes). Despite two years of dialogue with the working group and a commitment to bringing forward the policy, they offered two options: either submit a brief ‘aspirational document’ to Senate, or strike an Ad Hoc Committee of Senate to develop an entirely new policy (see Appendix 2). We are deeply concerned that neither option will reflect the spirit of the original community-driven document. Specifically, the administration has resisted a pro-survivor, intersectional approach to sexual assault that recognizes the particular needs and experiences of marginalized and disproportionately affected groups, despite the adoption of these frameworks in the sexual assault policies and procedures of other campuses (see Appendix 3).

McGill needs a sexual assault policy. Those of us who are, or have experience working with, survivors on campus know all too well that the University’s current frameworks to address sexual violence are inaccessible, insufficient, and often re-traumatizing (see Appendix 5). The only tangible measure through which the University has worked to address sexual assault involved hiring one Liaison Officer to develop and coordinate all resources, campaigns, and protocol pertaining to sexual assault on campus, who is also expected to provide support and information. One person is wholly insufficient to properly address sexual assault on campus.

Throughout the process, the working group has been used to bolster the University’s reputation. The administration has publicly credited Dean Costopoulos as being “instrumental in seeing the draft sexual assault policy progress through the system.” Despite positioning itself as a leader in addressing sexual violence, the University has been disingenuous at best and obstructive at worst in its efforts (see Appendix 6).

We are tired of empty words and hollow actions. We are tired of an administration that does not prioritize supporting survivors of sexual assault. We are tired of an administration that will not recognize the ways that institutional sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, racism, colonialism, classism, and ableism affect individuals’ experiences of sexual violence. It should not take another public case of sexual assault at McGill University to force our administration to take concrete, collaborative, and effective action, including – at minimum – passing a sexual assault policy.

For these reasons, we, the undersigned, demand that the University make a public commitment and take immediate action, in consultation with those most affected by sexual violence, in the following ways:

  1. We demand additional permanent resources and staff dedicated to sexual assault prevention and response.
  2. We demand a transparent, accountable and collaborative review process to determine how to best improve support for survivors. This review should be used to inform the development of future policies and procedures, and revise existing ones.
  3. We demand the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee of Senate, with student-staff parity, to create and pass a pro-survivor, proactive, accessible, and intersectional sexual assault policy before the end of 2016.

In solidarity with survivors,

The Sexual Assault Policy working group
With support from: The Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS)