This article is part one of UMSU’s U of M Budget 2020/2021 series, detailing the recommendations we have submitted to the University of Manitoba to include in its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
RECOMMENDATION: The University of Manitoba budget $250,000 dedicated to sexual violence training and preventative education initiatives for students and for the expansion of the Sexual Violence Resource Centre (SVRC) to the Bannatyne and William-Norrie campuses.
Sexual violence remains a prevalent issue within all sectors of society, but the problem is particularly acute among post-secondary students.
An investigation by Maclean’s magazine in early 2018, including a survey of some 23,000 students across 81 post-secondary institutions in Canada, found that over 20% of female students and one in two LGBTQ2S* students had experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes – half of those incidents occurring while at university.
However, given the chance, students are eager to become a part of the solution in addressing and preventing sexual violence on our campuses.
Beginning in 2018/19, UMSU mandated that all student groups must have 70 per cent of their leadership take consent culture training led by campus rights group Justice For Women (JFW) in order to receive UMSU funding. This amounts to some 500 students annually.
Meanwhile, UMSU’s work in consulting students and the U of M administration on its revised sexual violence policy led to 14 of our 15 recommendations being adopted in a new stronger, more transparent policy.
In addition, during provincial elections in 2019 UMSU lobbied each of the province’s political parties to take stronger action on sexual violence. We have continued to lobby government through consultation meetings in January with MLAs from both the official opposition and the Government of Manitoba, including the Minister of Economic Development and Training.
A key point of these talks has been to advocate for amendments to provincial privacy and workplace safety legislation to enable the sharing with survivors/complainants and prospective employers the findings of formal internal investigations into former employees accused of sexual misconduct, and disciplinary action taken as a result.
With the release of the 43 recommendations of the Path Forward report this past September, responding to sexual violence, harassment and discrimination at the University of Manitoba has been at the forefront of many ongoing efforts.
And yet, while UMSU commends the university on its laudable self-reflection thus far, now comes the challenge of following through not only on the recommendations themselves, but on the pledge to shape a safer campus for all.
In this regard, the opening of the SVRC is a major milestone. Having a central, dedicated space that survivors can go to seek counselling and treatment, access resources, and receive guidance from specially-trained, expert staff on necessary next steps in both their disclosure and healing processes is invaluable. It prevents survivors from being re-traumatized all over again by having to navigate a complex web of administrative and legal processes on their own.
In its first month, the SVRC has registered 40 contacts, 80% of which have been student inquiries.
The amount of people the SVRC has helped over the course of its first month – more than one per day – is a testament to both the absolute necessity for such a centre, as well as the depths to which sexual violence remains entrenched as an issue on our campuses.
All that being said, within the 2019 Path Forward review of the university’s policies and procedures, the following is noted:
The most effective measures to promote a safe and secure learning environment that is both respectful and inclusive are typically found at the “front end”: preventing sexual violence, harassment and discrimination before it occurs.
Evidence shows that there is much more work to do in this regard. The good news: students have displayed a willingness to engage in education and prevention programs if they are made more widely available.
In the U of M’s student survey leading up to the 2019 review, only 6.2% of respondents reported taking a course on sexual violence prevention; when looking at first year students in isolation, this dropped to 1.6%.
However, if given the opportunity, 1 in 2 students surveyed (49.5%) said that they would take a class to learn more about sexual violence if given the chance.
We urge the University of Manitoba to stay true to President David Barnard’s pledge at the review’s community release to commit this institution’s “unwavering attention” toward combatting sexual violence and implementing the recommendations of the review report.
With that in mind, UMSU recommends the university commit $250,000 in additional funding for effective sexual violence education and prevention initiatives and expansion of SVRC resources to the Bannatyne and William Norrie (Inner-City) campuses in 2020/2021 as a first step, with the potential for this funding to be renewed annually based on uptake and participation rates.
This university will only go as far as its students will take them. In order for us to give our students the best possible chance to succeed as learners and leaders, we need a campus environment that keeps students safe, and offers the education necessary to empower them to become leaders in their communities. To achieve this the university must ensure the proper resources, supports and training are in place to help prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence.