Ryerson students need to help shape sexual assault policy

Materials from a recent workshop promoting consent culture. (Nicole Abi-Najem / Ryersonian Staff)

Materials from a past workshop promoting consent culture. (Nicole Abi-Najem)

On Sept. 26, Ryerson students have the chance to provide feedback on the university’s Sexual Violence Policy, a little more than a year after its implementation.

The open meeting is one of two, two-hour sessions being hosted by Heather Lane Vetere, vice-provost of students, and Farrah Khan, co-ordinator of the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education (OSVSE). The second will be held Nov. 7.

In these four hours, Ryerson students will have the opportunity to shape the direction of the school’s policy on sexual violence, which is being re-evaluated this fall. In order to ensure that the policy reflects the needs of the Ryerson community, it’s essential we students attend.

It may seem like there has already been a lot of talk on campus about the university’s strides in addressing sexual violence faced by students and improving the support available to survivors. The creation of the policy and the opening of the OSVSE is the first time in Ryerson’s history that addressing sexual violence has been a clear priority.

While these improvements are significant, they were preceded by years of lax responses by the university — and significant outside criticism. In 2014, Ryerson was called out in the media for not having a policy on sexual violence, despite the fact that more sexual assaults were reported at Ryerson between 2009 and 2013 than at any other university or college in the country.

Coincidentally, the first open meeting will take place four years after the RSU called an emergency meeting following a string of sexual assaults on campus in 2012.

However, the university’s achievements in the last year should not lull us into believing that we no longer need to advocate against sexual violence on campus. Though the OSVSE is providing essential support for survivors and has launched education initiatives on campus, there is more work to be done. Fifteen per cent of Ontario  women will be sexually assaulted as students, and sexual violence continues to be profoundly under-reported. Having 2,000 students take part in #ConsentComesFirst training during orientation week this year is an achievement — but we must remember that this campus has over 38,000 students.  

On Sept. 26, we as students have the opportunity to speak up about the achievements of Ryerson’s sexual violence policy and what must come next. It is our responsibility to be present for that conversation, because while pausing to celebrate our small victories, we cannot lose sight of the progress we still need to make.

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