The survey Queer students are affected disproportionately; most don’t seek out supports
A recent survey funded by the provincial government and led by MacEwan University found that 50 per cent of post-secondary students in Alberta experienced some form of sexual or gender-based violence. The harrowing number paints a bleak picture of campus culture across the province as 12,948 students at 26 post-secondary institutions were consulted.
SAMU Vice-President External Jakob Cardinal says it’s disheartening to see such a large number of students affected and as these are traditionally under-reported statistics — the actual numbers could be larger.
While many of these incidents are going unreported or are underreported, results from the survey also confirm that students are not reaching out to get support, and many survivors of these types of violence are suffering in silence.
“There is an overarching stigma, I believe, in reaching out to these things, and just breaking down those walls, those barriers, those preconceived notions that asking for help is okay,” says Cardinal.
MacEwan University has a number of supports and programs in place to help prevent sexual assault and provide support for students.
“It doesn’t matter if it happened, on, or off campus. If someone’s being impacted, if it’s coming up for them in any way, we’re here to just, listen, believe and help that person explore any options they might want to consider,”
Roxanne Runyon, Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator at MacEwan
The sexual violence response coordinator is the first point of contact for students who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence on campus. This includes anything involving MacEwan faculty, other MacEwan students, anything that might have occurred on campus, a MacEwan event, or in a virtual space. The coordinator is a trained professional who can provide a safe environment for reporting and help survivors access support.
“It doesn’t matter if it happened, on, or off campus. If someone’s being impacted, if it’s coming up for them in any way, we’re here to just, listen, believe, and help that person explore any options they might want to consider,” says Roxanne Runyon, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator at MacEwan.
“That includes, emotional support, providing information, assisting people with feelings of safety on campus, safety planning, and referrals to other both on and off campus agencies as required.”
Runyon says that students can even receive academic accommodations if their experiences have impacted their studies.
But the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Education (OSVP) also helps train other MacEwan faculty to help create a larger network of possible supports that students can reach out to. Around 80 additional faculty are currently trained as support guides.
Part of the $2.5 million from the province that helped fund the climate survey on sexual and gender-based violence was also invested into helping institutions update their policies and implement better support for survivors and to help sexual violence prevention. With this funding the OSVP will be able to hire an additional staff member and implement new programming. One of which is focused exclusively on prevention.
“Bystander intervention is one of the tools in the toolbox of sexual violence prevention,” says Runyon. “It’s about equipping communities with the tools to be able to say something or something when they notice concerning behavior that falls under the realm of sexual violence.”
This includes anything from how to respond to verbal remarks played off as jokes, to how to respond to a sexual assault in-progress. The new evidence-based program called Bringing in the Bystander will help educate students and staff on these skills. However, it’s still just one tool.
“It’s not a silver bullet, that’s the thing about sexual violence prevention, there is no one strategy that’s going to do it all,” says Runyon.
Chris Beasley says sexual violence on campuses is a cultural problem that is going to require more than just policy changes from post-secondary institutions. As the Chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS), Beasley represents 114,000 Alberta students at the provincial level. CAUS is currently calling for additional funding from the province and for the creation of a working group of advocates and experts similar to 2016’s Advisory Panel on Mental Health.
“It costs a lot of money to change culture, and it’s money the universities don’t have right now. We’re emaciated, my university alone has been cut 220 million dollars”
Chris Beasley, Chair for the Council of Alberta University Students
“We’ve built out reporting structures that, wherever possible, are survivor-centric that empowers survivors to make the decisions that they want to make,” says Beasley. “But those reporting structures don’t change the numbers of how many people are experiencing sexual violence.”
“It costs a lot of money to change culture, and it’s money the universities don’t have right now. We’re emaciated — my university alone has been cut 220 million dollars” he says.
But while student advocates call for change, and institutions work with the funding already provided, the province is not showing any commitment to provide additional funding.
The press secretary for the minister of advanced education, Mellissa Crane, said in a statement that “We have delivered on that promise and have every confidence that all publicly funded post-secondary campuses will use this data to update their policies, so students feel safe and supported.”
Still, Beasley remains positive that Minister Rajan Sawhney will support CAUS’s requests.
“It’s not a silver bullet, that’s the thing about sexual violence prevention, there is no one strategy that’s going to do it all,”
Roxanne Runyon, Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator at MacEwan.
“There is hope on the horizon, and I know this is something Minister Sawney cares about, something her office cares about. The question is finding the funding and on the student end, making sure the ministry has to find funding.”
All the while, the OSVP gears up for Ending Sexual Violence: Week of Action. It’s the office’s largest initiative for educating students and staff about support and prevention during an epidemic of sexual violence at the university.