Ryerson has introduced a new sexual violence policy in response to growing concerns about sexual assault on Ontario university campuses.
The policy, recently approved by the university’s Board of Governors, stems from a 28-page report released in May authored by vice-provost for students, Heather Lane Vetere. In her report, Lane Vetere drafted a rough policy that was later tweaked after an open request for community feedback.
The move to draft a policy was prompted by the recent increase in media attention on the topic. Last year, a Toronto Star investigation found that most Ontario universities, including Ryerson, didn’t have a specific policy addressing sexual assault.
In Ryerson’s case, administrators say that appropriate support systems and reporting options were always in place. The student code of non-academic conduct and the university’s harassment policy, for example, would have applied in cases of sexual assault.
There was no specific policy, however, on sexual violence.
“While we had support and lots of people who work behind the scenes with students who experience sexual violence, we weren’t clear about that,” said Lane Vetere.
The new seven-point policy outlines the reporting options available to students — both criminal and non-criminal — should they experience an assault. It also focuses on other topics related to sexual violence on campus, including: survivor support, parameters of consent, confidentiality, maintaining statistics and awareness and prevention.
As an urban campus with many commuter students, Ryerson is unique. Students may experience off-campus assault, but where an assault occurs won’t change the way their case is handled, Lane Vetere added — nor will the timing of the assault or the persons involved.
“If a student arrives here on campus this year and reveals to their roommate or a counsellor they were sexually assaulted last year in high school, they have equal access to the same kinds of supports we would give to someone who might have been assaulted last weekend,” Lane Vetere said.
Another section of the policy states that faculties and departments are encouraged to incorporate information about rape culture — the societal normalization of sexual assault — and sexual violence into their curriculum materials “where appropriate.”
The policy will be reviewed again next year, and then every four years after the initial review.
Along with the policy, the university is introducing a new job position. It is currently in the process of hiring a co-ordinator for the new Office for Sexual Violence Support and Education. The co-ordinator will be tasked with setting up an advisory committee for the office and furthering awareness and support related to sexual violence on campus. Lane Vetere hopes the co-ordinator will be hired by the end of September.
One of the co-ordinator’s jobs will be to promote the university’s new “Consent Comes First” campaign. On Aug. 26, the university sent an email to 70,000 students with a link to the new policy and its video on consent. All T-shirts for this year’s orientation leaders and first-year students were printed with the #ConsentComesFirst hashtag on the sleeve.
“We had a lot of students saying, ‘What does that mean?’” Lane Vetere said. “The whole idea was to put it there so they’d ask those questions, and we could have these conversations.”
According to Ryerson provost Mohamed Lachemi, the university has been contacted by the Ontario government, which is reaching out to post-secondary institutions to get a sense of existing policies.
“This (new policy) is in line with what we think at Ryerson,” he said. “This is also in line with government efforts to bring more framework to ensure campuses are safe.”