Ryerson University hopes to unveil an updated sexual assault policy by the end of the academic year.
Over the past few months Vice-Provost for Students, Heather Lane Vetere, met with student groups and stakeholders, such as campus security, counselling services and community activists, to determine what the policy update needs.
“I’ve heard very consistent things, and I’ve distilled all of this information, and am very close at starting to write the report,” says Vetere.
Ryerson announced last November that the school’s existing sexual assault policies will be re-examined after a Toronto Star investigation found most Canadian universities and colleges lack one special policy.
According to Vetere, Ryerson has several policies in place already, such as how to deal with survivor complaints and support, but the review is looking at areas that may be missing or need improvement.
“We do a lot of support for the survivor but what’s wrong, I think, at Ryerson (and many institutions) is that we probably haven’t done a good job of making it clear that it’s available and where to get access,” says Vetere.
The new sexual assault policy will address four specific areas: support for survivors, adjudication of complaints, risk factors and management, and education and awareness, especially for consent.
“It’s educating students and members of the community about consent, and what that means, right from the day people arrive on campus,” says Vetere.
The university will also make bystander intervention training on sexual assault mandatory for all athletic coaches, staff and student athletes.
Bystander intervention teaches people how to stop a sexual assault before it happens, how to recognize and safely interrupt situations that may lead to an incident, and how to be supportive to survivors.
“This issue is really important because there’s so many high profile cases connected to athletics and athletes,” says Vetere, referring to the suspension of the University of Ottawa men’s hockey team last year after players were involved in a sexual assault incident.
“There should be a physical space, like a sexual assault crisis centre, and an online space, like a website, and also diverse in the people that ran them.”
In addition to training these groups, Ryerson will also consider creating an elective course, for academic credit, focusing on education and awareness about sexual assault.
Vetere held over 35 meetings, including consultations with sexual-assault survivors, to help draft and provide input for Ryerson’s new policy.
The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) hosted a town-hall discussion on Feb. 5, where students voiced their opinions on what the new policy should include.
Many attendees agreed that Ryerson should make it clear where and what support systems are available.
“Students said the support systems should be diverse,” says Rabbia Ashraf, CESAR’s director of events. “There should be a physical space, like a sexual assault crisis centre, and an online space, like a website, and also diverse in the people that ran them.”
Students also stressed the importance of a policy informing the prevention of sexual assault.
“From orientation to graduation, every Ryerson student should know what sexual assault and harassment is, how it’s perpetuated, and how to actively work to combat it on campuses and in our communities,” says Ashraf.
Before the new policy can be officially approved, stakeholders will revise the draft, which will then be put up for a public consultation.
“We need to have some discussion to say, ‘did I hear you, did I reflect what you want to see happen and is there something missing?’ That will be really important,” says Vetere.
After the public’s feedback, the policy will go to the Board of Governors for final approval and implementation.