September 25, 2018

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Students' union wants U of M to fund sexual violence support, prevention centre

In the wake of news three faculty members are being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct, students at the University of Manitoba are plotting solutions to prevent any other inappropriate behaviour from transpiring.

Sarah Bonner-Proulx, vice-president advocacy for the University of Manitoba Students' Union (UMSU), said students will be pushing administration to permanently fund a dedicated sexual violence support and prevention centre.

Other U15 schools — an association of 15 Canadian public research universities — such as University of Toronto and University of Alberta, have already established similar centres, she said.

"It was already something that we thought would be extremely beneficial for students on campus, but in light of recent events, it’s something now that’s going to be even more a priority for us moving forward this year," Bonner-Proulx said Thursday, a day after the University of Manitoba revealed there are five ongoing internal investigations into faculty members' conduct.

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In the wake of news three faculty members are being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct, students at the University of Manitoba are plotting solutions to prevent any other inappropriate behaviour from transpiring.

Sarah Bonner-Proulx, vice-president advocacy for the University of Manitoba Students' Union (UMSU), said students will be pushing administration to permanently fund a dedicated sexual violence support and prevention centre.

UMSU Vice President Sarah Bonner-Proulx says students want a dedicated sexual violence support and prevention centre.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

UMSU Vice President Sarah Bonner-Proulx says students want a dedicated sexual violence support and prevention centre.

Other U15 schools — an association of 15 Canadian public research universities — such as University of Toronto and University of Alberta, have already established similar centres, she said.

"It was already something that we thought would be extremely beneficial for students on campus, but in light of recent events, it’s something now that’s going to be even more a priority for us moving forward this year," Bonner-Proulx said Thursday, a day after the University of Manitoba revealed there are five ongoing internal investigations into faculty members' conduct.

"Not only do we need more preventative measures, but we also need those reactionary measures. So ideally this would be something we see as a hub for training, for students and for staff and faculty."

Two of the faculty members being investigated are currently on leave, U of M spokesperson John Danakas said Wednesday. The five investigations involve allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, personal harassment and breaches of human rights.

Bonner-Proulx said the U of M is desperately in need of more counselling services in general, a statement echoed by David Ness, director of the Student Counselling Centre.

"It’s definitely cast kind of a shadow, especially coming into the first week of school. It’s set a bit of a negative tone moving forward" – Sarah Bonner-Proulx, UMSU vice-president on the news three faculty members are being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct

As the fall semester begins, the centre is bound to get even busier. Counsellors field a wide range of queries about stress, anxiety, relationships, family issues, depression and sexual violence, Ness said.

"We certainly have very high demand and we could use more people. More students come than we can respond to, and that’s pretty consistent at counselling services across the country, actually," he said.

Ness said he hasn't researched other universities' sexual violence prevention centres, but he wasn't opposed to the idea upon hearing it. He's enlisted a Klinic Community Health counsellor to visit the university once a week, starting next week, to discuss sexual violence with students and to work with other counsellors. The partnership with Klinic has been in the works since January, he said.

"We find a lot of these difficulties (with sexual violence) did not happen on campus or may have happened before (students) even came to university and they’re coming now for the support," Ness said.

"I think this is wonderful in our society. I think people who’ve experienced (sexual violence) feel a lot more support for coming forward and they feel safer to do that. So sometimes people have had this experience years ago, it’s so traumatic and it’s taken them a while to be able to come and ask for help."

Ness appreciated the university being upfront about pending sexual misconduct investigations Wednesday, but has concerns that the news may trigger some students.

"I don’t really know if that (announcement) is a good thing or not…. One thing that I took away from it that I’m really glad about is if there are allegations of inappropriate behaviour on campus, whether it’s sexual harassment or physical harassment, I’m glad there’s investigations and that it’s being taken seriously. That should always be the case and I’m glad to hear that’s occurring," he said.

Policies around the province

At least four other Manitoban post-secondary schools don't have any open sexual misconduct investigations underway about faculty or staff members.

On Thursday, the University of Winnipeg (U of W), Red River College (RRC), Brandon University (BU) and Assiniboine Community College (ACC) confirmed they have no active investigations.

At least four other Manitoban post-secondary schools don't have any open sexual misconduct investigations underway about faculty or staff members.

On Thursday, the University of Winnipeg (U of W), Red River College (RRC), Brandon University (BU) and Assiniboine Community College (ACC) confirmed they have no active investigations.

The University College of the North and Université de Saint-Boniface did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

In April 2017, the province legislated the Sexual Violence Prevention and Awareness Act, which required every post-secondary school to have in place clear policies to prevent sexual violence, developed by wide consultation with the entire campus.

A spokesperson from U of W said the school approved its sexual violence prevention policy in June and students were directly involved in writing the document.

Spokespeople from BU and ACC said their policies are in place and reviewed regularly, while an RRC spokesperson said the college is in the process of updating its respectful workplace policy and introducing a new sexual violence policy.

-Jessica Botelho-Urbanski, with files from Ryan Thorpe

"It’s always sad to know this means at least five students were negatively impacted by inappropriate behaviour and that shouldn’t happen," he said. "The other thing I was thinking about is whenever these kinds of things come out, there is the risk that it will cue some students who’ve had these experiences and they might really have a strong stress reaction. They might have been doing OK and then they hear about this and they get disrupted or depressed."

Bonner-Proulx said the mood around campus is more "solemn" than usual.

"It’s definitely cast kind of a shadow, especially coming into the first week of school. It’s set a bit of a negative tone moving forward," she said of the investigations.

"We acknowledge and we appreciate the university’s steps towards making amends.

U of M president David Barnard apologized Wednesday to any students who may have been victims of inappropriate behaviour from faculty members.

"That being said, we’re not jumping to applaud the university for something that, frankly, could have had action taken on it much sooner," Bonner-Proulx said.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association did not return calls or emails for a second day.

Of the 10 U of M faculties contacted by the Free Press Thursday, just three deans responded by deadline. None of them were willing to say whether they had been given a heads-up about the administration's investigations before Wednesday.

"As I am sure you are aware, the University of Manitoba is the size of a small city. If there are five investigations underway, I interpret that to mean that allegations have been made in five cases, and the investigations will determine whether or not the allegations have merit. I, as dean of arts, would not be made aware of any investigations unless they happened to involve students, staff or faculty in the faculty of arts," Jeff Taylor said in an email.

"At the Asper School of Business, we take the issue of sexual violence very seriously. We strive for an environment of inclusion for our students, faculty and staff, and other members of the Asper community, with a focus on having a culture of respect, safety, consent and prevention," a spokesperson for Gady Jacoby, dean of business, said in a prepared statement.

"I don't really have any reaction to speak of at all, really," said Jonathan Beddoes, dean of architecture and engineering, by phone. "I think it's a very difficult circumstance and I support the university in all the actions they have taken."

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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