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BC Ministry Forum on Sexualized Violence Policies

a student reflection

| Rebekkah Ankenmann, Contributor | From June 4th to 5th the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training hosted a forum with administration and students from all across British Columbia to address the vast issue of sexualized violence within post-secondary. You may now wonder what this has to do with you? Judging that this is an article being published for Selkirk College students primarily I’d like to share the information that one in five post secondary students experience sexualized violence. This is only based on the accounts that are actually reported.

This forum was very useful for advocates and administrators present, but here I present an overview of what I learned from being a student representative at this conference and highlight some aspects that I believe specifically affect our school and students.

This is such an epidemic in post secondary institutions, as it is in larger society, that it was mandated by the provincial government for each school to have a policy in 2016. This became a problem as many institutions were unprepared to properly create an educated, dynamic, and accessible policy. Because of this, many policies include language or procedures that are actually harmful to survivors or any others trying to utilize the policy. Our institution in particular includes a ‘false accusation’ clause that expresses that there will be consequences for false accusations of sexualized violence. This kind of language has been shown by experts and advocates to be an antiquated clause that discourages survivors from coming forward. I have personally gone over the policy at Selkirk College with a colleague based on the ‘report card’ that was created by Students for Consent Culture Canada. Selkirk College did not score well, though this means there is a lot of opportunity for improvement and engagement.

Luckily it is also mandated that there must be a review of every three years, with the next review scheduled at Selkirk for May of 2020. This means that it is the perfect time to actively get involved within our institution and make our voices heard. Things such as plain language that has the ability to make policy comprehensive in regards to who may be reading it, along with trauma informed practice would greatly benefit our policy at Selkirk College. With the mandated policy review pending, it is incredibly important for students to put in their thoughts and expectations for what they believe their policy should reflect within the college. I understand that it is difficult to get involved as Selkirk is primarily a transitional school, with programming that is based on short diploma lengths, however it is important to think about the students who will be attending after we have gone.

Involving consent education was also highlighted to be greatly important within institutions, as it encourages a more open and positive campus culture. The most important aspect of creating a positive campus culture will be directing campaigns towards involving students who wouldn’t generally want to get involved. Students who don’t think that consent talks and workshops related to them are generally the ones who most need to be attending them. There were also presenters from on-campus and community organisations on tactics and theories for addressing sexualized violence. This is important as many of these organisations are the experts on addressing violence in our societies and on campuses.

It will be interesting to see how this issue will be tackled within Selkirk throughout the next year specifically. One of our biggest challenges is finding the capacity to engage students, as the school doesn’t have a lot of draw outside of class hours. Also there is no single person or group of people who are tasked with this work, meaning any work done on sexualized violence prevention and education is done off the side of someone’s desk. I am hoping that there can be a general engagement of students through class talks, and planning events and workshops throughout the year.

The forum also had a moment where students were allowed to talk freely about specific issues or concerns that they had relating to their institutional administration. It was to be a safe conversation where students could talk amongst themselves and validate one another’s concerns without fear of recoil from administration. However this wasn’t how it played out with every institution. Some institutions have more strained relationships with their students, or student groups. There was also a hope for more student engagement by administrations when they are creating programming and policies, as these policies are meant for and affect students.

Most interestingly there was a presentation from the Minister of Advanced Education Skills and Training, Melanie Mark, who announced that the provincial government plans to invest more than $700,000 to address sexualized violence on campuses across BC. Though this funding is needed to support anti-violence work on campus, a highlighted topic of conversation was that one-time funding is not a fix-all, as it does not actually create any static infrastructure that will benefit students for extended periods, nor will the funding go far enough to affect the number of students it needs to. Additionally there needs to be special attention paid to how the money is distributed, as large urban universities have an astronomical difference in resources in comparison to small community colleges. I believe a meaningful commitment would be to create jobs for individuals who are able to support the institutions with the creation of policy, and programming aimed at prevention. These would be specifically important to smaller colleges, as other institutions may already have support in this way from on campus.

My hope is that we keep up the enthusiasm and passion for a comprehensive policy and proper supports for implementation of the policy so that we can show that students care and that they want to be involved in the process.