CJ Rowe talks SVSPO, Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and more

“One of the key pieces I would like to see is everyone sees that this office is for them.” – CJ Rowe

Photo courtesy of CJ Rowe

By: Jennifer Low 

Fast facts on CJ Rowe

  • Name: CJ Rowe
  • Pronouns: They/them/theirs
  • Position: Director of the Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office
  • Education: Doctorate in Education (UBC), a Master of Arts in legal studies (Carleton University), and Bachelor of Arts degrees in sociology (University of New Brunswick) and sociology and women’s studies (Acadia University)
  • Work experience: Ten years of experience as a diversity advisor at UBC, co-leading programming around building education awareness on equity and diversity issues specifically related to students of gender-diverse identities. Policy analyst with Womenspace, a women’s resource centre in Ottawa. Analyst on sexual violence and gender-based violence within Internet communication technologies. Executive director of Qmunity, a queer, trans, and two-spirit resource centre based in Vancouver. Other work for national and Vancouver-based non-profit organizations.
  • Fun fact: When the weather’s warm and they’ve got some time off, one can often find Dr. Rowe rock climbing in Squamish.

Even with my poor sense of direction, I can easily find the cozy Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office (SVSPO), currently nestled within the Academic Quadrangle in room 3045.

As soon as I enter the office, I am greeted by the SVSPO director Dr. CJ Rowe. With the beginning of what is going to be another heavy snowfall gently descending outside and a space heater keeping our toes warm, Rowe and I sit down to talk about the brand new office.

Rowe describes the Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office as a community-based service that is “intended to be a hub for the Simon Fraser University communities,” and to provide support and services to faculty, staff, and students on all three campuses.

The SVSPO provides support to all survivors, regardless of how recent or long ago the experience of sexual violence or misconduct occurred. The SVSPO also offers aid to people who are supporting survivors, and backing for faculty, staff, and students when it comes to supporting a disclosure.

Another important service the SVSPO provides is referrals to on-campus support and community partners. Rowe acknowledges that some people may feel more comfortable accessing help in their home communities whether that is within the Lower Mainland, the province, or even other parts of the country or world and that the SVSPO is therefore equipped to help individuals access those services and support systems.

Rowe states that the goal of the SVSPOs’ service to the community is “to help provide the opportunity for someone to have a more positive experience in their day to day life here on campus.”

The SVSPO is the only place through which a survivor of sexual violence or misconduct that is interested in doing so is able to make a formal report, which can be passed through the appropriate channels for an investigation to take place. However, they emphasize that “in order for an individual to access support through our campuses, you do not have to make a report: a disclosure is enough to get the support you need.”

When asked about how confidentiality in these cases is ensured, Rowe explains that the SVSPO operates under a number of different privacy acts and works closely with the university council to ensure that the information that are being collected and the systems used to store it are situated appropriately within privacy law.

According to Rowe, “Education and training is a big piece of what we facilitate through the office and we work with partners across all of our campuses to do that.” The SVSPO provides four free and comprehensive workshops put on by the centre’s educator Ashley Bentley. Bentley works with campus community members to find out what issues are most important to them in order to tailor the workshops specifically to their audiences. Rowe believes that these workshops are key opportunities to help build knowledge and to start or continue conversations surrounding sexual violence in different communities. The SVSPO’s website holds more detailed information about each of the workshops as well as how to sign up. Through education and awareness programs, Rowe hopes that the SVSPO may be able to make a greater impact in “[equipping] all of our campus community members [with the ability] to support somebody who makes a disclosure.”

Having only opened in mid-January and officially launched with the email broadcast on February 1 as SFU moved into the full implementation of the GP 44 sexual violence and misconduct policy, the centre is still fairly new.

“We’re learning new things about the needs of our campus communities every day,” Rowe says with a smile, acknowledging that there are challenges when it comes to learning by doing, while also stressing the advantage getting a more intimate understanding of the needs of the community.

Rowe comments that the reception they have gotten since they began their time as the director of the SVSPO has been a positive experience, recalling that people have been very candid in conversations surrounding some of the “harder edges” of the history of action that has and has not taken place around sexual violence and misconduct on campus. Rowe describes the experiences as “very heartening [. . .] there are many people in this campus community that are past ready for change.” They note a widespread curiosity regarding what kind of impact a centre like the SVSPO will be able to make on campus.

A current barrier of the SVSPO is that the office is physically located on the Burnaby campus, which may leave students at the Surrey and Vancouver campuses with the feeling as if the SVSPO’s services aren’t available to them.

“What I would love for those communities to know is that our case managers and educators and myself are fully mobile, we have cell phones, and we can drive to meet people where they’re at,” Rowe says of the issue.

As a self-described “hopeful optimist,” Rowe states that “while there are pieces we are definitely wrestling with right now, we’re going to find solutions and we can only do that by working closely with our community members.”

When asked about LGBTQ+ issues that come up, Rowe states that in their experience working with and supporting individuals who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, they recognize that these individuals’ experiences are often left out of the narrative. “One of the key pieces I would like to see is everyone sees that this office is for them,” Rowe says. They further stress that at this point in time there is an opportunity to build relationships and systems in order to be better able to support all members of the SFU communities.  

As our interview draws to a close, we talk a little bit more about how one could get involved with the SVSPO. A great opportunity Rowe suggests to students who wish to learn more about what it means to facilitate change in the community through everyday interactions is the Active Bystander Network, which is is a student engagement opportunity that works together with the SVSPO to “create a culture of zero-tolerance for sexual violence at Simon Fraser University.”

This March, the SVSPO will be co-hosting Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a number of partners in order to deliver a series of engagement opportunities for SFU communities.

“The idea of Sexual Assault Awareness Month this year is to build relationships with our campus communities in order to hold a yearly month-long series of events around building awareness about sexual violence intervention and prevention,” Rowe says. In other words, spreading the word and setting down roots in the campus community. This includes using podcasts, a blog, and a new website that will be going up later this month.

When asked why students should be interested in Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Rowe responds that “sexualized violence can happen to any of us at any point in our lives [. . .] this office is here to support those people who experience it first-hand, second-hand, third-hand, and that’s the work that we’re here to do.”