Tierney Watkinson | News Director
In May of this year, UNBC enacted a Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy. The policy is a response to the instigation of Bill 23, put in place by the Liberals as British Columbia’s previous governing party.
Bill 23 was introduced by Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver earlier last year. “The introduction of this act fulfills the promise by the Premier to introduce legislation along the lines of my private member’s Bill M205: Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act,” Weaver stated on his website in April 2016.
Bill 23 decrees that:
“A post-secondary institution must establish and implement a sexual misconduct policy that
(a) addresses sexual misconduct, including sexual misconduct prevention and responses to sexual misconduct,
(b) sets out procedures for the following:
(i) making a complaint of sexual misconduct involving a student;
(ii) making a report of sexual misconduct involving a student;
(iii) responding to a complaint of sexual misconduct involving a student;
(iv) responding to a report of sexual misconduct involving a student, and
(c) addresses any other matter prescribed by regulation.”
Dr. Gary Wilson, Professor of Political Science at UNBC, sat as the Chair of the Steering Committee for the new policy. “The steering committee ensures that UNBC adapts the Ministry’s Sexual Violence Guidelines for the UNBC context, and develops a stand-alone Sexual Violence policy,” states UNBC’s “Sexual Violence and Misconduct” webpage. On the original Committee were also Human Resources Manager Kerry Roberts, Coordinator of UNBC’s Northern Women’s Centre Sarah Boyd, and previous Assistant Director of Student Affairs Brenda Slomka. Brenda Slomka has left UNBC, with the Manager of the UNBC Wellness Centre Sarah Hanson taking her place on the Committee. Also pivotal to the development of the Policy was Assistant Director of Safety, Security, & Risk Management Sarah Elliott.
According to Dr. Wilson, this sort of policy is making its way across Canada; Ontario put a similar stand-alone policy into place two years ago. Prior to the introduction of Bill 23, UNBC had a Task Force in place to combat and resolve issues of sexual misconduct on campus. According to the UNBC webpage, “The Presidential Task Force on Sexual Violence was created in the spring of 2014 and submitted its final report in September 2016.” This Task Force provided the Steering Committee with a set of recommendations, among which was a recommendation for a stand alone policy. Such a policy brings all of the campus’s methods of response to sexual violence and related issues together into one document, rather than having a series of them.
Dr. Wilson speculates that the legislation mandating the stand-alone policy was spurred into action in BC as a result of sexual misconduct on other campuses in BC, as well as to drive a conversation about sexual violence and thus speak about and address such issues more openly.
When asked about whether the policy would be working with facilities such as the Health Centre and Women’s Centre on Campus, Dr. Wilson replied, “Yes, absolutely….Representatives from both of those organizations were involved from the very beginning; in the development of the policy they were critical to reaching out and helping us with the consultations and participating in the work of the steering committee… These organizations are an important part of UNBC’s response to this issue.”
As a direct result of this policy, training will, he assures, be made available to faculty, staff, and students. Then, should an issue arise, the person receiving a disclosure from someone can better respond to the situation, and know how to deal with it, as well as be aware of what the next steps of action are.
The original Steering Committee is evolving to include two new sub-committees. One will focus on training individuals and the other will centre around promoting education and awareness.“We’re in the process right now of creating those sub committees in anticipation that they’ll probably be fully operational by later in the summer,” Dr. WIlson says. Creating the Policy was one thing, but actually putting it into place is another entirely. Through the process of consultation for the Policy, Dr. Wilson states, the Committee realized that there are numerous people at UNBC with expertise that needs to be drawn upon to make the Policy the best it can be. Therefore, “those sub-committees will be populated by people at the university who have expertise in this area.”
The importance of the Policy lies not simply in its development, but also in the conversation generated around it. “What I’m hoping is that this conversation around the Policy will a) create awareness about the issue, and b) make us more vigilant about the issue, and push us to do more to deal with with sexual violence and misconduct on campus,” says Dr. Wilson.
Student involvement and awareness is of paramount importance as well. According to Dr. Wilson, “We didn’t have a student rep on the committee, but the students were there throughout the whole process, which was really, really valuable. They made some excellent contributions to the work of the committee and pointed out things that we didn’t necessarily see as we were trying to put the policy together.” Student representatives included the previous President of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society Arctica Cunningham, the President of UNBC’s Graduate Student Society Trina Johnson, and current NUGSS President Erik Searle, as well as other undergraduate and graduate students at UNBC.
In an email, Erik Searle states, “I hope to see an increased push from the university to conduct education and consent campaigns, as well as making as many people as possible aware of the new policy.” When asked if he believed such a stand-alone Policy should have been implemented sooner, he commented: “I think policies like these can never come soon enough….it’s important to recognize the positive that the policy has been written and adopted. The motivations are less important than the outcomes.”
The Steering Committee began in October 2016, and completed the Policy to meet the May 2017 deadline. “We had a series of meetings, we developed an online questionnaire, we had some focus groups and we had some one on one interviews. We developed a draft policy and then put that out to the university community and had a mechanism for feedback” Dr. Wilson notes. The entire process took approximately 8 months.
The Policy, as well as a set of response procedures, can be found and read online at http://www.unbc.ca/sexual-violence/policy-procedures. These documents were officially released on May 18, 2017.
Special thanks to Dr. Wilson, who made the time to meet and discuss the Policy.