Sexual harassment at Brock University brought into the spotlight

This past Friday, the CBC published an article revealing that a Brock University professor allegedly sexually harassed one of his female students, who then, after reporting the incident to university administration, was asked to keep the investigation confidential.

In response to the article, Brock University issued an official statement through their online, marketing publication, The Brock News, claiming that the CBC article contains “outdated information”.

“The University has in fact addressed the issue in a serious manner,” read the online statement that was also sent out to all Brock undergraduate and graduate students through their brocku.ca e-mails. “The employee is not assigned to a class and is not on campus.”

Many students and community members have taken to social media to voice their disappointment and outrage in light of the recent news. Specifically on Brock University’s official Facebook page, some commenters that claim to be students refute the university’s claims.

“You did not move promptly. You told the student she had to remain quiet about the assault. You refuse to deliver proof of any disciplinary action taken against the person who committed an act of sexual assault,” stated one commenter in response to the article.

“Trying to spin this story is just as insulting as their inability and unwillingness to act in an effective manner in dealing with this very serious issue,” said another commenter.

Facebook’s “Brock Spotted” page has also seen a surge of anonymous posts expressing a variety of opinions. Several students have even created a “meme” out of the professor’s photo.

The CBC article stated that the unidentified Brock student who was the victim of the harassment reported the sexual harassment incident to the university earlier this school year, 11 months after the incident reportedly occurred. The article names David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, a professor in the Department of History as the perpetrator of the harassment against his student. Brock’s three-month long internal investigation ended this January.

“Its conclusions accepted the student’s version of events, that she ‘immediately started to object’ to the advances of her professor,” stated the article posted to CBC’s website.

However, despite Brock’s claims that, “Brock officials moved promptly after being told of sexual harassment claim”, as the headline of the official statement read, Schimmelpenninck van der Oye taught two upper-year classes up until as recently as last week.

Students in these classes were not notified, nor given an explanation as to why Schimmelpenninck would no longer be teaching the class. In fact, some students believed that he was on sabbatical.

The official statement from the university simply states that, “the employee is not assigned to a class and is not on campus.” When contacted by The Brock Press, the university declined to clarify further about the Schimmelpenninck van der Oye’s actual employment status.

The biggest issue that is coming out over this story however, is the fact that the university allegedly warned the student who reported the incident to not release any details and that the confidentiality of all parties involved must be maintained.

The CBC article stated that, “one of the reasons provided for the confidentiality was ‘to respect all parties’ interests in keeping such complaints from being improperly publicized’.”

This is not the first time however, that the university has told a survivor of a sexual violence incident to stay quiet.

One of the students who also commented on Brock’s Facebook post, claims that, “I know from my own personal experience at Brock that when I was physically assaulted on campus, Campus Security told me not to go to the cops because it would be ‘a waste of taxpayers money’. They wanted to sweep everything under the rug with me too, and the other student was allowed to continue studies with no repercussions. They told me I was so close to graduating why even bother with an investigation.”

Another student commented the following: “A similar situation happened to me with threatening messages, and I still regret not going to the cops about it to this day.”

For an article published on Feb. 23 in The Brock Press, the victim that came forward to the CBC discussed her interactions with the university.

“In what appears to me to be an effort to protect their member of faculty, I have been instructed to not talk about the outcome of that investigation,” the student said via email correspondence. “To me, this seemed like they were trying to silence me. When I inquired about why I would not be able to share the conclusions of what they claimed to be a fair and unbiased investigation, I was told it was because they did not want it to be ‘improperly publicized’.”

During the investigation, the student was in email correspondence with the Manager of Employee and Labour Relations in the Department of Human Resources. In fact, the position of Human Rights and Equity Officer, who is normally in charge of handling any harassment cases, was empty until the end of first semester this year.

Ellie Donohue-Miller, the Services Support Coordinator for the Brock Student Sexual Violence Support Centre (A Safer Brock), commented that they were disappointed with Brock’s reaction.

“We are disappointed with how this report of sexual harassment was handled. We acted as this student’s advocate throughout the investigation process and [we] were surprised by the lack of transparency and accountability. The timelines in place for this process were not followed, the student was at times met with hostility from the administration, and the administration repeatedly ignored her requests to include us in all correspondence as her advocate,” said Donohue-Miller.

“We were shocked by the university’s refusal to disclose what disciplinary action (if any) would be taken. The university also attempted to silence this student by stating that she could not discuss the investigation process or its findings to anyone. This student’s sense of safety and healing did not seem to be the university’s primary concern,” Donohue-Miller added. “The process for reporting [harassment] at Brock is confusing and inaccessible. Brock’s handling of this case ultimately tells other survivors that they can expect a lengthy possibly hostile process from which they will not even receive a sense of closure or finality.”

Early Monday morning, Jack Lightstone released another statement, emphasizing the university’s focus on a safe and inclusive environment for all students, staff and faculty members.

“I am writing now to reach out to anyone who may have experienced harassment, sexual or otherwise, but has chosen to not come forward to report such an incident. The University and I want you to do so,” read the statement.

The Brock Press has reached out to Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, who has declined to comment.

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