U of Ottawa students combat rape culture amid controversies

Graphic by Jacob Lindgren
Graphic by Jacob Lindgren

Students at the University of Ottawa are speaking openly about issues of gender-based violence and rape culture both on and off campus.

The concerns spurred from a recent incident involving the sexual harassment of U of O’s student union president that was made public.

Anne-Marie Roy, the president of the university’s students’ union, revealed an explicit online chat of which she was the subject, sparking debate across campus.

Allegations of sexual assault have also been made against several members of the university’s men’s hockey team, which motivated the administrators at the school to create a task force to address these issues.

However, some students are not satisfied with the initiatives.

“They won’t even say the words rape culture or gender-based violence,” said Seamus Wolfe, external commissioner for the Graduate Students’ Association at U of O.

“How do they ever expect to address it if they cannot even say it?”

Wolfe continued, “The fact that there is a visceral reaction to that language in some corners shows, I think, how this language is striking a chord and in a meaningful way on our campus and in wider society.”

Wolfe, along with other students, will be holding a meeting at the town hall in Ottawa to discuss issues of gender-based violence in the community.

Their aim is to launch a grassroots task force that will combat issues of sexual violence.

“We can express our experiences collectively, or individually, as well as give direction and meaning to a real task force that would collectively come up with responses, rather than it being either individuals who come up with some report or some committee that is not open to all members of the community,” he said.

Allan Rock, the president of the University of Ottawa, declined an interview request from The Cord; however, a statement was issued by Patrick Charette, director of corporate communications for the university.

It explained that the university “has suspended the men’s hockey program pending an internal review into allegations of misconduct involving some of the players on the team.

“Given the serious nature of the allegations, suspending the program is the right decision at this time.”

Erika Graf, a second-year student at the University of Ottawa commented on the ongoing discussions around campus.

“I’ve never really noticed anything out of the extreme here, so it was actually kind of a shock with all the stuff that’s happened recently,” Graf said. “I think it might be a bit of an extreme way to describe it unless there have been events that have happened that I just haven’t noticed or haven’t paid attention to.”

Graf felt that there was a high level of awareness on campus about issues of gendered violence.

Wolfe also noted that these recent issues have initiated wider discussion.

“It has sparked a wider-spread discussion on these issues, but the student union and activists, we work on these issues every single day,” he said. “With our involvement in Canadian

Federation of Students we have our ‘No Means No” campaign, the tool kit on gender-based violence which we launched last year.”

The university has not responded to Wolfe’s statements regarding a proposed task force.

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