Last Thursday, the headline “Brock University tells students to keep quiet about sexual harassment finding” was seen all over Canada. Facebook and Twitter blew up with students sharing their dismay and emotion over what happened to a Brock student.
As everyone has read, a Brock history professor sexually harassed a female Brock student in October 2014. I was extremely disappointed, as many were, at how Brock dealt with this incident. When the student first came forward about the assault, she was allegedly told by Brock to remain quiet about the event. Following the initial investigation, the student was repeatedly told to keep all results and information “confidential” to ensure that Brock’s reputation was not tainted.
Again, I am of course disappointed with this response, but what disappointed me even more are the responses I heard from my fellow peers. I saw numerous statuses and tweets and had conversations with people that all said a number of things that, frankly, scared me.
One person said that if the professor “only kissed her” or “touched her leg” it shouldn’t be this big of a deal. Another student explained to me that events involving sexual harassment are uncomfortable and they did not want to hear about it. This is when I realized what my greatest disappointment is. Both of these individuals were male and both seemed to have not been educated on the main issues surrounding consent.
Both believed that consent was not something that women decided. However, in reality, if you advance on a woman (may be it for a kiss or hand on her leg) and she says “no” and you advance anyway, you are violating her right of consent. When I told my peer this, he was confused. I realized that even at 20 years of age, he was never taught that consent couldn’t just be something to teach women.
You can’t just have classes for women teaching them that no means no and you have that right. A huge piece is missing from this. Men must be taught that consent is actually something they have to think about and something they need to respect. Not because it’s a woman, but because it’s another human being.
Yes, sexual harassment is a terrible thing that no one should ever go through, but that does not give anyone the excuse to avoid learning about it. Sadly, that is what has been happening at Brock. I believe that education is such a crucial part of addressing this problem. The fact that there is a class for self-defense against rape and sexual harassment for women is great, but why do we not have a class for male students to teach them what their part is within the act of obtaining consent?
This education for men has been lacking since elementary school. From a very young age, men have been told that one of their main objectives is to see how many women they can sleep with, and this is commonly an expectation for men. Some men can’t even comprehend consent because for them this has never been a concern.
Of course, feminism plays a huge role in this. As one male feminist I know quite well said to me recently, “feminism isn’t about a gender being above the other, it is about respecting another human being and not violating their rights that come with being a human.” So yes, what happened to the student last October is extremely sad, but there is a bigger problem rooting from this.
Men must be educated about this, and maybe using the work “complainant” in a school-wide email isn’t the best path to go in better education surrounding sexual harassment. I’m hoping that Brock will notice the problems present and hopefully comments like “a kiss against someone’s will is no big deal” will turn into “that individual did not want that happen to them and they deserve justice.”