Throughout the questions and comments raised at the feedback sessions for the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Prevention, Education and Support Policy draft, there were two issues that became a lightning rod for the Simon Fraser University community: the “Central Resource Office” and how a sexual violence report will be investigated and resolved.
The office, which at this point is no more than a concept, is “literally going to be an office that is central and have resources,” according to Dr. Jonathan Driver, former vice-president academic and provost for SFU at the town hall session last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised that the University Board of Student Discipline, which the policy states will handles all the student misconduct cases. The board is composed of faculty, students, and staff at SFU.
At both the town hall and the student feedback session last week, the resource office became one of the most discussed issues, with talks ranging from what it should be named to how it will be implemented physically to how it will be staffed, both with frontline resources and administrators running it.
Both Driver and the policy draft working groups respect that this is something that requires delicate care.
“I think we need to be very careful about what we name it, as a number of people commented. We need to be very careful about how we physically locate it,” said Driver.
“We’re dealing with who say ‘It must be really obvious where you have to go,’ but other people who say ‘Look, if you make this a place that people go to when they’ve suffered from sexual misconduct, that people may be reluctant to go through the door.’”
Students talked a lot about the stigma of disclosing sexual violence, some question whether SFU needs a physical space #ittakesallofusSFU
— Kathleen Yang (@kathleen__yang) January 18, 2017
One of the concerns that surprised was the insistence that the whatever it’s called, the resource office will be made up of experts on sexual violence and the other appropriate services it will offer.
“There’s also been concern expressed, and I must admit this surprises me, that we should staff the office with experts. Well, we staff all areas of the university with experts, we write job descriptions very carefully,” said Driver.
The difference between being an expert and believing you’re an expert is the main concern, as President of Academic Women at Simon Fraser University Elise Chenier pointed out when discussing the University Board of Student Discipline.
“The concern I expressed at the forum is that people already believe they have the expertise,” said Chenier. “This is not only hugely problematic because people who sit on that board as caring and as informed as they are have no expertise whatsoever in dealing with these cases. As I said at the forum, often think they can understand them based on quote unquote common sense knowledge.”
While the Central Resource Office could still take any shape (or shapes, if they decide to have one at every campus), it seems it will do so without actively seeking input from a group of students who have spent the last year and a half trying to build a similar resource on campus, as per comments made at the town hall.
— The Peak (@PeakSFU) January 17, 2017
There has been a group on campus trying to build a Sexual Violence Prevention and Resource Centre, and while it has been said that there is a possibility of collaboration between the groups, as of yet they have not been consulted for what they know.
“It is striking that the policy group has not taken advantage of the opportunity to work with people who have already been actively researching this question. I don’t know why they did not take advantage of the opportunity, but that certainly seems to be an oversight on their part,” said Chenier.
This may be why concerns were raised over what experts look like, and why the Central Resource Office and the University Board of Student Discipline will be the most scrutinized issues going forward. As the crucial period of the edits comes up for the policy draft, it’ll be interesting to see how this will be dealt with.