Brandon University examines office after misconduct case involving coach

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BRANDON University plans to consult community members about the future of a campus office tasked with supporting people who report sexualized violence on campus, in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal.

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BRANDON University plans to consult community members about the future of a campus office tasked with supporting people who report sexualized violence on campus, in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal.

BU created a sexualized violence policy and hired an expert to implement it, after it was criticized in 2016 for requiring students who come forward about sexual assault to sign away their ability to discuss their case with anyone but a counsellor — or risk expulsion.

Therapist Carla Navid became the first co-ordinator tasked solely with sexualized violence education and advocacy, the latter of which involves assisting people who make reports at BU.

(Brandon Sun files)

The position, initially a full-time role, was reduced 75 per cent in early 2021 amid COVID-19 budget constraints — a development that shocked students, employees and advocates.

In late 2020, before the job officially became 0.25 FTE, a female student filed a complaint to the boss of BU athletics regarding misconduct allegations of both a sexual and non-sexual nature against a coach.

Neither she nor any of the other women who disclosed concerns were connected with Navid, until an internal investigation into the matter wrapped up last May.

(BU employees who receive disclosures are supposed to immediately contact the sexualized violence education and prevention co-ordinator.)

When schools screw up internal reviews and fail to invest in material supports for complainants and prevention efforts, it poses massive barriers for survivors, said Maddie Brockbank, a PhD student in social work at McMaster University who studies sexual violence prevention on campuses.

“It indicates that the university won’t protect or support them,” said Brockbank, adding school investigations should be survivor-centric, trauma-informed and involve an independent party so accountability is built into processes.

The Brandon University Faculty Association started raising concerns about cuts to the specialized co-ordinator’s hours months ago, but there’s been no action to address the vital service gap that has existed for more than a year, said union president Gautam Srivastava.

“We are still working on a permanent solution for that office at BU and will be inviting our university community into that discussion,” wrote Grant Hamilton, the school’s director of communications, in an email Thursday.

Hamilton said Navid — who declined an interview request earlier this week, citing a contract that prevents her from talking about her work — continues to provide services in the interim.

The University of Manitoba currently operates a sexual violence resource centre staffed by three employees who help complainants with everything from finding safe housing to seeking academic accommodations.

“Sexual violence happens on campuses everywhere. The impacts of that are so unique and long-standing and complicated and disruptive to the people that experience it that it really requires a very special kind of support,” said Bre Woligroski, who has been a centre co-ordinator since it launched in January 2020.

A general harassment policy does not address the nuances of sexualized violence, including stigma, Woligroski said.

The trauma-informed centre is the go-to place at U of M for anyone who has questions after receiving a disclosure. Community members can access a 45-minute online course that details case studies, what kind of behaviour is not acceptable, and school policies.

Gender-based violence experts across Canada have given Red River College Polytechnic’s “No Wrong Door” policy a gold star.

The post-secondary community encourages people to share their experiences with sexual violence with anyone they feel comfortable with and trust — whether it be an instructor, counsellor or another individual.

RRC Polytech’s approach was highlighted in a 2019 report published by Courage to Act, a national initiative to address and prevent gender-based violence at colleges and universities.

Farrah Khan, executive director of Possibility Seeds (the organization that oversees Courage to Act), applauded the “No Wrong Door” concept and institutional commitment to educate all community members on how to respond to incidents.

It is not critical that everyone is an expert in disclosure, but rather everyone knows how to treat the process “like a relay race,” she said, noting individuals should know what to say when they receive a report and where to send someone for further information and support.

Immediately connecting a survivor with a specialized co-ordinator on campus, if one exists, is a best practice, Khan sad.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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Updated on Friday, April 29, 2022 6:26 AM CDT: Adds photo

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