UBC students take action to implement sexual assault policy

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Students from the UBC Political Science Students Association (PSSA) are taking a stand in order to create a department wide sexual harassment and gender sensitivity policy.

Sydney Snape is the VP academic of the PSSA and a fourth year political science and history major at UBC. Her leadership role with the PSSA has played a large role in getting the policy off the ground.

She and her fellow student colleagues have been drafting the proposal for the past few months. Now, the PSSA is ready for the proposal to be reviewed by the UBC’s Equity Committee and UBC’s political science head of department, Allan Tupper.

The proposal comes at a time where concerns about sexual assault and rape culture at the university have come under the spotlight.

In 2013, the University investigated reports of a rape chants being sang during the Sauder School of Business’ FROSH event. Students partaking in the chant were reciting lines about non-consensual sex with underage girls.

There were also strings of sexual assaults on campus that occurred over the span of several months between April 19, 2013 and October 19, 2013. Reports of these attacks became publicized and suddenly the topic of sexual assault became a pressing issue on campus. Media outlets zoomed their attention to UBC and how the school was responding to the attacks.

More recently, there have been reports of three more sexual assaults on or near campus. One of the attacks took place in February and the other two occurred in March.

While these assaults were brought to the public front, the majority of sexual assaults do not. Canadian universities do not publish sexual assault statistics, but data collected in Canada has shown that out of every 100 incidences of sexual assault, only six are reported to police.

A special investigation by the CBC revealed that UBC’s sexual assault reporting is completely out of sync with statistics. Data collected shows that the number of sexual assault reports received by UBC between 2009 and 2013 is less than 25 per cent of the reports received by the RCMP detachment on campus during the same span of time.

The large difference in reporting received by the university and by the RCMP raises questions as to how the school is creating a safe and trusting space for students to come forward about their experiences with sexual assault.

UBC has taken some safety measures to ensure better security on campus. So far $750,000 has been invested in lighting and landscaping enhancements in order to ensure well lit and visible walk ways, and $250,000 will be used towards education programs, exploration of CCTV options and the development of communicate tools such as a smartphone safety app. Nevertheless, security measures don’t send a strong enough message that sexual assault is not tolerated on campus.

The university does not have a current sexual assault or gender sensitivity policy. In fact, out of Canada’s 78 universities, only nine have sexual assault policies in place.

However, there are several groups (such as the UBC Sexual Assault Support Center, Equity Services and Access and Diversity) that have been hard at work over the last several years to get a school wide policy implemented.

The decision by the PSSA to create a sexual assault and gender sensitivity policy for the political science department highlights how students are taking action to make sure that UBC begins to create a safe space for students and staff.

Snape told Vancity Buzz that the policy has three main objectives. The first is to promote more accessibility for students and staff to access resources about sexual assault online and in professors’ offices. Ensuring that workshops are consent and sexual assault are available for students and professors is also something the PSSA would like to be included in the policy. Lastly, the PSSA is pushing for a change on political science course syllabi so that they will include guidelines about making the classroom a safe and inclusive environment.

The PSSA also hopes to get other services such as the Sexual Assault Support Center and Access and Diversity involved with the policy implementation as well.

Snape explains that the policy is opening up discussion the importance of how to make campus a safe, and comfortable place while also promoting the idea of consent culture.

After UBC was under the media spotlight following the series of sexual assaults on campus, the topic of sexual violence became a big point of discussion at UBC.

“Everyone was talking about it but no one was really doing anything about it,” Snape said. “ With this policy, we want to continue the discussion but also create preventative accountability when it comes to sexual harassment and gender sensitivity in and out of the classroom.”

So far the proposal has received very positive feedback from students and professors within the political science department. The PSSA is hoping that if everything goes well, the policy be passed and implemented by the beginning of the next school year in September.

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Simran Singh is a Contributor at Vancity Buzz. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Journalism at the University of British Columbia. She is a big fan of coffee, writing and exploring Vancouver. Send a story idea her way at simran@vancitybuzz.com
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