Following the presentation by Tarana Burke, an African-American activist and founder of the #MeToo movement, the Brock community is reflecting on sexual violence on campus.
“#MeToo is a community. Being able to relate to someone about an experience that is so traumatic, such as sexual assault, makes strangers into allies immediately,” said Joyce Khouzam, Vice President Student Services with the Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU).
Khouzam called attention to a specific point that Burke emphasized in her presentation: this movement is about creating a community of empowered women. According to Khouzam, the way Brock university can become such a community is by coming together to express a common experience: sexual harassment and assault.
“All most survivors want is to not be the only one holding on to their truth,” said Burke.
During her Oct. 29 presentation, Burke urged the audience to reflect upon the way sexual harassment is being addressed on campus and to make sure Brock is fulfilling its promise to make this issue a priority. She emphasized this by reading Brock’s mission statement out loud.
“Brock University flourishes through the scholarly, creative, and professional achievements of its students, faculty and staff. Offering a range of undergraduate and graduate programs, Brock fosters teaching and research of the highest quality. As a diverse and inclusive community, we contribute positively to Canada and beyond through our imagination, innovation and commitment,” said Burke.
This mission statement, according to Burke, is what we must consider when making decisions that impact survivors of sexual violence.
Khouzam remains optimistic about the way Brock is handling sexual violence but maintains that there is always room for improvement.
“Sexual assault is being addressed on campus through consent training, victim support and intervention training. Although I don’t think there can ever be enough done, I think we are on our way to creating a safer campus,” said Khouzam. “Throughout O-Week, [the Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre] SWAC did consent activities. The [Student Justice Centre] and SWAC both provide a safe space for students to come disclose any information they would like to, and connects them with different resources to help them further in their journey of healing. Finally, security guards and bar staff in Isaac’s have intervention training to look for warning signs of possible sexual assault on pub nights.”
Some students remain skeptical of Brock’s approach to addressing sexual violence on campus. One such student is Maya Shaw, a fourth year student in Labour Studies.
“I don’t really see sexual assault being addressed on campus. I know I was shown a video in first year about what consent means. But other than that I can’t say I’ve heard of any places you can go for help, or anything of the sort,” said Shaw. “There aren’t even any seminars available on the issue, unless I just missed them.”
Disclosures of sexual violence on campus are fielded by the Office of Human Rights and Equity Services. Students can submit a form online to make a disclosure. If they include their name and contact info, they can arrange to meet with Sexual Violence Support and Education Coordinator Larisa Fry to make a disclosure and learn about the various avenues available to them. Just as all survivors of sexual violence have different experiences, the support they may receive and options they may pursue for their healing are unique to each individual.
Students may also make a third-party disclosure or seek guidance in supporting survivors in their life.
A key message that Burke shared with the audience was that we must work together as a community to make Brock a better place for survivors, in an all-encompassing way.
“We can’t tell people ‘this worked for me so it will work for you.’ We have to tell people ‘this worked for me so this might work for you,’” said Burke.
Burke claims that the issue of sexual violence must be addressed not only in academic curriculum and policy implementation, but through dialogue.
“Community action is different. Community heals,” said Burke.
It is true that Brock has been in the process of implementing new policies to address sexual violence on campus. After hearing from Burke, Leela MadhavaRau, Director of the Human Rights and Equity implored students to contact Brock’s department of Human Rights and Equity to work together to navigate Brock’s policies.
“We were challenged as a university and a community tonight,” said MadhavaRau. “I hope all of you heard those messages: you have the power now. We are growing a movement. You have a role.”
MadhavaRau concluded the presentation by echoing Burke’s words of inspiration.
“Take ownership of the movement. Engage in community healing. Make this radical concept a reality,” said MadhavaRau.
Students who have been impacted by sexual violence can make a disclosure online through the website for the Office of Human Rights and Equity. Distress Centre Niagara has a 24 hour crisis line that can be reached at 905 688 3711 for residents of St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. Students in crisis may also call the Good 2 Talk support line at 1 866 925 5454 for free confidential support, information and referrals. The website for the Office of Human Rights and Equity Services has compiled an extensive list of other resources available to students.