Laurier task force aims at combatting sexual violence on campus

University looks to implement a
policy on preventing sexual violence

Photo by Heather Davidson
Photo by Heather Davidson

As sexual violence becomes a more prevalent problem on Canadian university campuses, Wilfrid Laurier University has joined in the attempt to address this issue with several new approaches.

Max Blouw, Laurier’s president and vice-chancellor, explained that faculty, staff and students have been concerned about what they can do to prevent sexual violence on campus. He said while there has never been a highly publicized set of issues with sexual violence at Laurier since he became president in 2007, they still happen.

“There have been incidences of sexual violence and we’ve tried to handle them as best as we know how, but we really need to work hard to diminish the incidences further,” he said.

Sexual violence on school campuses is therefore a complicated issue and Blouw believes protecting people is a key aspect.

A three-month long investigation by the Toronto Star found only nine of 78 publicly funded universities across Canada have a sexual assault policy, with Lakehead University, Brock University, the University of Guelph and Western University being the only four in Ontario.

As a result, Laurier hopes to take this necessary step in dealing with the problem of sexual assault on Canadian campuses.

“Most of the students are engaged in a form of relationships and exploring, so we are in an environment where this is a concern that’s in the press and we really are taking it very seriously, and hopefully we as an institution will be amongst the leaders in responding,” Blouw said.

According to Blouw, there is a gendered violence prevention group and a response task force that have been established to help raise awareness on campus.

“We’ve had around 200 people, including faculty, staff and students, asking to become involved in some way. So this has grown into a large group of people who have both a very high level of engagement and concern.”

In 2014, a group of concerned individuals approached Laurier and sparked a discussion about sexual violence between vice-president of student affairs, David McMurray, dean of students at Waterloo’s campus Leanne Holland Brown and dean of students at Brantford’s campus Adam Lawrence, as well as the student affairs unit.

Laura Mae Lindo, director of the Diversity and Equity Office, is leading the charge in terms of Laurier’s responsibility to address students’ concerns with sexual violence, according to Blouw.

“We’re having a look at the whole issue again and hopefully how we can improve what we do in both terms of prevention and response,” Blouw explained.

Lynn Kane, employment equity and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act officer, organized a committee comprised of faculty, staff and the student advisory group to prevent sexual violence.

The committee is looking to work with advisory groups in the Kitchener, Waterloo and Brantford communities and have currently established five working groups for participants.

Carmen Bruni, a third-year business student, said Laurier has room for improvement on the issue of sexual violence.

“I believe there should be zero tolerance when it comes to sexual violence. So until this is achieved, I believe there is always more that can be done,” she said.

“I think preventing sexual violence at school should always be taken seriously and there is always room to improve,” echoed Alex Belardi, a third-year business student. “Laurier should work with students to help improve and implement sexual violence policies. I have never had a negative experience … but we should work towards preventing these experiences from happening.”

Blouw explained that Ontario universities are currently establishing a reference group to look at how the schools are doing in terms of practices and structure. The advisory group’s intent is to look at the relationship between what Laurier is doing currently to prevent sexual violence as well as provide suggestions from a 2013 Ontario Women’s Directorate report.

He continued the best approach Laurier can take to prevent sexual violence on campus is education and awareness.

“The biggest thing is education, it’s awareness raising, it’s putting in place the supports that are desperately needed by those involved — and prevention I believe is the key and really talking about the issue,” he said.

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