The University of Toronto Students’ Union issued a press release last week regarding their plans to address sexual assault on campus after receiving a grade of 66 per cent for their current sexual violence policy from student group Our Turn.
The press release came after Our Turn released their Action Plan—a 42-page document grading the University of Toronto, as well as multiple other universities, on their sexual assault policies and outlining steps they could take to fix their policies.
The press release stated that “The scores, published in the Our Turn National Action Plan, show the lack of consistency amongst policies.”
U of T’s sexual assault policy received a C, scoring just above McGill University which received a grade of 61 per cent, while Ryerson University received the highest grade with an A-minus.
“Our Turn is a national student movement to address sexual violence on campus,” stated Caitlin Salvino, chairperson of Our Turn, in an interview with The Medium.
“It was started by students and it is essentially saying that we think there is much that can be done on campuses to prevent sexual violence, to support survivors, and to advocate for changes to the policy.”
Salvino referenced the lack of student consultation in the creation of sexual assault policies as troubling. “Universities claim that they consulted students, but when you actually ask people on the ground, they really don’t feel like they were consulted.”
There were multiple criteria that U of T’s sexual assault policy did not meet on the Action Plan checklist. The U of T sexual assault policy lost marks for suspending complaints if the respondent transferred schools or dropped out, in addition to the lack of an external third party independent member on the review committee. They do not mandate sexual violence sensitivity training, they have lack of clearly defined timelines for the complaint process, they do not highlight prevention programs on campus, and they do not mention rape culture.
“A number of students have come up to us and complained about the sexual violence policy, even just its implementation. The consultations that the university did leading up to the policy, a lot of students felt were inadequate, inaccessible, barely promoted, and barely advertised,” stated Chimwemwe Alao, UTSU’s VP equity, in an interview with The Medium.
“The sessions weren’t enough. And then also a lot of students have said that the draft policy and final policy are almost one and of the same, very minimal changes. So I’m not surprised that it got such a low score, because even with its implementation students have not been happy with it and don’t feel like it’s done enough,” added Alao.
The Action Plan calls for university campuses to shift to a culture that promotes consent. Salvino explained that universities should be able to talk about sexual violence, consent, and affirmative consent openly.
“The Our Turn National Action Plan lays out a list of programs that student unions can implement to prevent sexual violence, support survivors, and advocate for change on their campuses,” read the UTSU press release. “Each student union that signs on to the Action Plan will begin by striking their own Our Turn Taskforce made up of relevant stakeholders in their university community. The taskforce will decide how best to implement programming from the action plan by selecting and customizing options to suit the unique issues and needs on their campuses. The UTSU will strike its task force at the next regularly scheduled Board Meeting.”
Alao elaborated on how the UTSU planned to address the issue of rape culture by bringing it to the attention of the social justice and equity commission, as well as other commissions and groups that focus on combatting sexual assault. “We have our Women’s Sub-Commission; they plan to do a lot of action and work, specifically on the sexual violence policy. And as part of signing on with Our Turn, we’re going to start an Our Turn task force, which will oversee the implementation of the Action Plan within U of T.”
Alao acknowledged the necessity for a more nuanced approach when it comes to understanding and implementing sexual assault policies. “Often times what you’ll see with nation-wide sexual violence campaigns is that they only push one solution. But Our Turn acknowledges that every university has their unique circumstances on their campus, and with their administration, and it allows that flexibility in order to adjust it to what we need.”
Our Turn has united 20 student unions from eight provinces across Canada with the goal of creating student task forces to deal with the issue of sexual violence and to create prevention, support, and advocacy programs.