The opening date for the University of Manitoba’s resource centre for survivors of sexual violence can’t come soon enough, advocates say, after years of calls for administration to create a one-stop, survivor-focused office.
On Monday, the Sexual Violence Resource Centre will open its doors to students, faculty and staff on the fifth floor of the University Centre. Community members will be able to seek general information, referrals and counselling through the office.
"The fact that there’s going to be a set of people that can receive these complaints and things directly… is definitely very exciting," said Vatineh Magaji, president of the Justice For Women U of M student group.
"It is something that was a massive gap in the way that we address student survivors and support them, throughout any decision they chose to make."
The 22-year-old said she’s glad her group will soon be able to refer people to one particular location to seek resources, rather than to a number of support services scattered on and off campus.
“It is something that was a massive gap in the way that we address student survivors and support them, throughout any decision they chose to make.” – Vatineh Magaji, president of the Justice For Women U of M student group
Run under student affairs, the centre will be staffed by two U of M employees, as well as two counsellors from Klinic Community Health. The goal, according to centre co-ordinator Bre Woligroski, is to provide a safe space for community members to ask questions about sexual violence at the Fort Garry campus.
"We really want to provide an option for response that’s survivor-centred, that really is trauma-informed and respects the complex needs of the person who’s seeking services," Woligroski said.
The office’s creation fulfills one of 43 recommendations made to the Winnipeg school in an August 2019 report on sexual violence, harassment and discrimination practices and policies at U of M.
Among the recommendations, banning sexual relationships between teaching staff and students they supervise, requiring investigators to have trauma-based training, and promoting restorative justice in working with survivors.
The final report came one year after U of M president and vice-chancellor David Barnard publicly apologized to students who had experienced sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. During Barnard’s speech, he acknowledged ongoing investigations into allegations against faculty members.
“We really want to provide an option for response that’s survivor-centred, that really is trauma-informed and respects the complex needs of the person who’s seeking services.” – Bre Woligroski, U of M’s resource centre for survivors of sexual violence co-ordinator
The harassment complaint process itself hasn’t always been easy to navigate, which is why activists such as Allison Kilgour have been advocating for a resource centre for at least six years.
"Without prevention, education and survivor support, we’re not going to be able to really make any movement in terms of the issue," said Kilgour, a Winnipeg-based advocacy co-ordinator for Students for Consent Culture.
The U of M law student applauded the university for taking a first step, which she said will allow for ongoing education on sexual violence resources at the school.
Room 537 in the University of Manitoba Students' Union, University Centre
Services will be accessible in person on a drop-in or appointment basis or via phone (204-474-6562) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Prof. Clea Schmidt said it’ll be critical to ensure the office itself is advertised, so people know it exists. On Friday, she had yet to receive an email informing faculty members of its opening date.
As for the centre's structure, Schmidt said she’s meeting its opening "with some trepidation."
Considering its foundation has primarily focused on students’ needs and it isn’t arm's-length from the school (although, its two Klinic counsellors are), she said there’s some work that still needs to be done to ensure all community members will feel comfortable accessing it.
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.