After the initial media outburst last Friday, Brock University President, Jack Lightstone released a second statement and both the Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) and Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) have released official responses as well.
Many students have expressed anger and disappointment with how the university has handled the incident of sexual harassment reported by CBC. As an organized student response, a number of activists planned a protest on March 15 to stand in solidarity and show support for survivors. The group of activists have also called for the resignation of accused Brock Professor, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye.
A group of around 60 protesters gathered at the base of the Schmon Tower, holding signs and chanting. Some of the signs read ‘Support Brock Survivors’, ‘Stop the Silence’, and ‘Full Accountability Now’.
Rose Davies, one of the organizers of the protest, spoke about the ‘culture of silence’ that exists on campus when it comes to sexual violence and the problems that survivors face when trying to come forward and report incidents.
“There are barriers every single step of the way towards finding a solution and there is no process of having your voice heard in an adequate way,” said Davies.
Alex Perna, one of the founding members of SASA, spoke further about the ‘culture of silence’ that exists on campus.
“It looks like [senior administration] hiding behind their words instead of being straightforward with the facts, and choosing to distance themselves in a way from the issue,” said Perna. “It looks like people questioning a survivor or being defensive of a perpetrator.”
The response was wide-spreading and immediate through many forms of social media in the last few days, with many comments on Brock University’s own official responses, as well as anonymous outlets frequented by Brock students, like “Spotted at Brock”. This outrage was mirrored at the protest.
“It seems like [Brock] has waited until this issue [of sexual violence] is national news, before talking about it,” said Melissa Nyamushanya, one of the participants in the protests. “It’s ridiculous that it has to reach that point before it’s talked about.”
The Brock Press has been in email correspondence with the anonymous student who came forward to disclose the incident with Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, who also felt the university’s response was insufficient.
“I think Dr. Lightstone was completely ingenuine. He did not attempt to speak to me until the day after CBC had interviewed him. Had he actually been concerned, he would have reached out when the final report hit his desk. He was trying to get ahead of the situation so he could say ‘I’ve reached out to the complainant’,” said the student.
The student also explained that she supports going through the proper channels in order to do a proper investigation and that it is appropriate to keep the details confidential during the investigation. However, she firmly believes that the findings of such an investigation should not be kept secret.
“It makes me angry. This should be shouted from the rooftops,” said the student. “Their findings revealed a member of their faculty had sexually harassed a student and they allowed him to continue teaching right up until they caught wind of a CBC investigation.”
On March 14, Jack Lightstone released a second statement through Brock News and to Brock students via their brocku.ca emails that emphasized the university’s focus on a safe and supportive environment and encouraging other survivors of sexual violence to come forward and report the incidents.
“I am writing how 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. In our commitment to having a safe, welcoming and supportive environment, we must all be committed to confronting and dealing with every incident or issue,” stated Lightstone in the statement.
Conversely, however, the student who had reported her incident through the official process did not believe Brock was supportive, like they claim.
“It really came as a shock to me to be confronted in a way that made me feel like I was being silenced. I must have had my head in the sand for many years because I went into this believing the university would have the interest of their tuition-paying young scholars at heart. Now I see that it is a business and the ‘Brock’ brand was at risk,” the student commented.
Brock currently has no specific policy in place to handling sexual violence cases. A committee was formed at the beginning of the school year in September whose task it is to develop a stand-alone policy that addresses sexual violence and prevention. Kyle Rose, BUSU President, addressed this issue in his statement.
“We feel that this specific incident is indicative of the inadequate current policy framework around sexual violence at Brock and only adds increased focus to the work being done on the Sexual Violence Prevention Committee, a body in which I, BUSU President sit,” stated Rose.
The current generic policy in place, and the one through which the incident concerning the accused professor was addressed, is the Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy (RWLEP). One of the problems with this policy is that its highest form of sexual violence is sexual harassment, and does not actually specifically address cases of sexual assault.
The anonymous student did not feel that the RWLEP adequately addressed the situation.
“By choosing to use the RWLEP, I was not even able to refer to the incident as a sexual assault. I feel like their choice to pursue the investigation under this policy was protection in itself,” she commented.
The protest addressed this issue by focusing two of their demands around Brock’s policy. The demonstrators want a Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator hired before Sept. 2016, whose job will be to handle complains and educate the Brock community on these issues. As well, they demand that the new sexual violence policy focus on students first and make provisions in cases where there is a power balance between the individuals involved.
The protesters also tried to point out the lack of sufficient education regarding consent. One of the chants at the protests specifically touched on this as students yelled: “Yes means yes, no means no. Whatever we wear, wherever we go.”
Madi Fuller, a Brock student present at the demonstration, spoke further about this issue, explaining how many male peers she’s talked to don’t fully understand that consent is needed in all types of situations, and that as soon as a woman feels uncomfortable, it is considered sexual harassment.
“Males have to be taught about consent,” said Fuller.
The response of outrage following the initial news has escalated to an organized effort of advocacy to support those who have been victims of sexual violence and prevent further sexual violence in the future. The protesters created a board directed to Lightstone, saying “This is what justice looks like”, to which the organizers encouraged students’ contributions. Lightstone collected the board at the end of the protest at 3:00 p.m. (Updated)