With the recent rise of sexual violence occurring on Ontario university campuses, President Meric Gertler of the University of Toronto has issued a public statement for university members late last month. In the announcement, Gertler reminds students and faculty of the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment that came into effect in 2017.
“The University of Toronto commits to building the best systems and practices to protect all members of our community from sexual violence, to support survivors, and to foster a culture of consent, accountability, and respect,” Gertler states.
According to the policy, the university plans to place emphasis on sexual violence policies and practices. Questions like “what are the best practices to address the barriers to reporting and to provide support for survivors?” and “how do we appropriately account for power dynamics that are inherent in institutions of higher learning?” will be prioritized for the safety of the community.
Loridee De Villa, a second-year student at the University of Toronto Mississauga majoring in biology for health science, demands for action to be taken by the three campuses. “We need the university to care for our well-being as much as they [care for] any professor or researcher and realize that contributions to the school should not have any impact whether we are treated with dignity or given justice,” she says.
Gertler also urges students and faculty to seek support from U of T’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre. Members of the centre provide support to victims of sexual assault by offering office hours from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre is open to all three campuses for students, faculty, staff, and librarians. The centre offers a number of resources, including counseling, medical services, academic or workplace accommodations, financial aid, and legal aid. Currently, the centre is taking appointments remotely through video or phone conferencing.
The centre is also working on #CheckInForConsent campaign as a way to spread awareness about sexual violence. The centre is also working on #CheckInForConsent campaign as a way to spread awareness about sexual violence through sharing promotional materials for prevention and support. Many can be downloaded and are posted on their website.
The centre has also implemented a sexual violence education and prevention module that would provide training to students, staff, and faculty at U of T. As stated on their website, “completion [of the module] is strongly encouraged and constitutes an important step toward creating a campus environment in which all members of the university community can study, work, and live free from sexual violence.”
Though the experiences of students are often overlooked at some universities, U of T makes it clear that it will provide its community with the necessary tools to overcome these issues. Sexual assault is a serious crime and requires continuous, rigorous support from educational institutions in order to foster safe environments for their students.