Student voices in harassment and discrimination policy limited but heard

The St. Thomas University Students’ Union is calling for more accessible language and resources to be included in the revised harassment and discrimination policy.

They also provided feedback regarding the policy’s position on confidentiality, where in case of an assault, under the 2018 version of the policy, the alleged respondant would learn the identity of the complainant if the complaint went to a formal investigation.

STUSU President Husoni Raymond said the revised policy reflects the norm across post-secondary institutions.

The harassment and discrimination policy is a document that covers discrimination, harassment, discriminatory harassment, personal or psychological harassment and sexual harassment between students and faculty and/or staff that occur on campus, off-campus or at university-related events or meetings. It does not cover matters exclusively between students.

Raymond met with Jason Scarbro, St. Thomas University’s director of human resources to provide his feedback during the consultation phase on Jan. 24.

Before his meeting, he asked the STUSU executive team, the student representative council and moot court students for feedback.

The feedback

A section of the policy reads: “The university shall ensure that a comprehensive set of resources are available to the university community for the purposes of preventing harassment, discrimination and or retaliation, creating a culture of safety and respect and responding to complaints of discrimination and harassment under this policy.”

Raymond said he wanted the language to be more accessible.

“That’s a broad statement, but no concrete examples were given or how that’s going to be accomplished. That was one of my concerns that I brought forward,” he said.

Raymond said he and Scarbro talked about creating a chart with resources for students who have experienced harassment or discrimination.

He also suggested changing some of the language to make it more concrete.

“The policy mentions a lot about preventative measures and training [for faculty, staff and potentially students] and stuff like that, but it wasn’t explicit as to what those measures are, like what the training was, so I brought that as a concern,” he said.

Raymond said he knows students are concerned with the policy’s confidentiality aspect.

“With our sexual assault prevention campaign, the clothesline project, we did see a number of notes relating to confidentiality and the policy,” he said, referring to an initiative where people share statements on women’s clothing in an effort to bring awareness to domestic and sexual violence.

Raymond said it’s difficult to balance the accused’s rights to know what’s brought up against them and the survivor’s right to confidentiality.

“If someone said you did something and that it could result in you losing your job, you’d probably want to know exactly like what the nature of the claims were and who made them … but also understanding that with the power imbalance that is at play with a student and a staff member, a student and a faculty member, and how knowing who the student is, can cause retaliation or bullying,” he said.

A long process

The policy has been undergoing revision since fall 2018 and there is no clear timeline as to when it will be finished. The policy was last revised seven years ago.

In fall of 2018, President Dawn Russell appointed seven members to the President’s Advisory Committee, including vice-president academic and research Kim Fenwick, Scarbro, two representatives from the Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas (FAUST), a representative from the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a student representative appointed by the St. Thomas University Students’ Union and Judy Begley, a lawyer specialized in harassment and discrimination based out of Moncton. STU’s vice-president finance and administration Lily Fraser chairs the committee.

Mary Lou Babineau and Robin Vose are the FAUST representatives and Kelly Humber Kelly, STU’s mental health coordinator, is the PSAC representative.

A high student turnover rate

Last academic year, STUSU appointed Maria Caicedo to be the student representative in the committee, but she had plans to leave for exchange next year. Then, it appointed Vijaya Ramnawaz, but she graduated in May.

There hasn’t been an appointed student representative since. Fraser said it would have been difficult for a new student to join the committee part-way through its work because the review was stretching over different academic years.

STU’s associate vice-president communications Jeffrey Carleton said to have a student voice the committee reached out to STUSU to have them suggest changes for the policy.

Carleton said the STUSU is the correct body to get feedback from because they were elected by students to represent their interests.

When will the final decision be made?

The Board of Governors, which is the highest governing body in the university, will not be discussing the changes to the policy in its February meeting because the document will still be under revision.

Carleton said the committee is waiting for feedback from FAUST, which is expected “very soon.”

Once the committee receives all the feedback from its stakeholders, the revised policy will go to STU President Dawn Russell who will look at it and decide on whether to put it into effect.

According to Carleton, because the policy is an administrative one, it may not have to go through the Board of Governors to be approved, but Russell will decide that.

“I know the committee feels that’s a decision for the president to make because it’s her committee … She has to look at the changes they make and then make decisions on what the next steps are.”

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