Victims of sexual violence have had an advocacy group at St. George for a month, but Thrive has yet to make an appearance at UTM.
At the start of last month Katrina Vogan founded Thrive U of T, a group that advocates for better institutional support for those who are affected by sexual violence. The third-year physics and literature major at St. George wanted to give a voice to the unheard narratives of sexual victimization.
It was the increasing number of stories on campus and in the news that encouraged her to build on the idea.
“During the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby trials, this had become a topic of conversation that I was very frustrated about and eventually the frustration grew to an extent where I felt like I didn’t have a choice but to do something productive and do something that might change it,” Vogan said.
In November, U of T created an advisory committee on sexual assault on campus. When the committee announced its members, few of them were students.
According to Vogan, UTSU VP equity Najiba Sardar was “very vocal” in expressing her disappointment. Because of Sardar and St. George student Celia Wandio, who launched a petition for more student voices to be represented on the advisory committee, the situation “marginally improved” by adding students to the committee’s working groups, said Vogan.
This was all she needed to start her own initiative with the help of others who had worked on raising awareness about sexual violence cases.
Among the institutional issues Vogan said she wants to address is the accessibility and awareness of the services offered on both campuses. Many students don’t know that counselling services are offered to them, said Vogan, and when they do find out they have to make an appointment because there is no walk-in service.
There is only one sexual assault counsellor appointed to serve the three campuses.
Thrive now runs a blog that includes “And Then”, a platform for students to tell their own stories about sexual assault. Vogan said the stories don’t just talk about what happened but about the aftermath as well: the way the students felt, what they were thinking, and the healing process.
“We need to be having open conversations about that fact that violence doesn’t look the same against women or men, doesn’t look the same based on who you are. Sexual violence as a blanket term is a very big thing,” said Vogan.
“Because it’s such a big term we really need to have that conversation about what that looks like if you’re not white, if you’re not straight, if you’re not part of a gender binary.”
The blog also has a survey in English and Chinese on safety and services offered at St. George.
Vogan says part of the reason Thrive is not already at UTM is that the campus offers a different experience that “isn’t understood as well by those who live and go to the downtown campus”.
She added that feeling safe at UTM was probably a more “complicated feeling” than at U of T.
“The woods seem really beautiful during the daytime but it becomes a very different situation at night,” she said.
Vogan visited UTM to investigate her options, but said it would be better if a UTM student took the lead in running the initiative here. She said the main group is willing to share its resources.