Sexual harassment at Brock University brought into the spotlight

Earlier today, the CBC published an article entitled “Brock University tells student to keep quiet about sexual harassment finding” that reveals a Brock University professor 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an official statement via their online, marketing publication, The Brock News, claiming that the CBC article contains “outdated information”.

Schmon Tower

“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 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.

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. The three-month long 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.

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 this week.

Students enrolled in HIST 3P60 (The World of Genghis Khan: Inner Asia since 500 BC) that was taught by Schimmelpenninck, received an e-mail on Mar. 9 that their lecture the next day was cancelled.

While an official replacement for Schimmelpenninck for the remainder of the semester has yet to be officially decided, Dr. Victor Thiessen is currently teaching the class.

Students in the class 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 status and whether or not he has been placed on sabbatical.

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’.”

Reportedly, 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.”

Moreover, The Brock Press published an article on Feb. 23 about the issue of sexual violence on campus. A graduate student of last school year, spoke about how she reported an incident involving a faculty member as well, and how the university told her to not speak about it publicly.

“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’.”

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 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 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.”

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

If you or someone you know needs support dealing with sexual violence, you can receive 24-hour anonymous support by texting 289-990-7233 or emailing Support@ASaferBrock.org. For more information about the services offered by the Brock Student Sexual Violence Support Centre, see www.ASaferBrock.org

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