SFU student reports sexual harassment on campus from construction workers

Any harassers will be ‘not allowed back on campus,’ says SFU

Andres Chavarriaga/ The Peak

By: Gurpreet Kambo, News Team Member

“It started [happening] more frequently a few months ago.” 

“Construction workers would start whistling at me and catcalling me and saying ‘hey honey, hey baby.’ They’d ask me to give them a smile or something like that,” said SFU history student Robyn Jacques. She adds that there’s a new student residence being built next to McTaggart-Cowan Hall where a recent incident occurred.

“It’s happened more times than I can count on two hands [on campus],” said Jacques, adding that it’s also happened at Convocation Mall in the midst of heavy construction presence. “It was a bunch of men and when they were together, they weren’t afraid to say whatever they wanted,” She noted that it frequently happened on the small pathways that were made through the construction areas. “It’d be so easy for them to say something, and they did.” 

Jacques then elaborated on her mindset leading up to her Facebook post. “It just kinda boiled up to this point, where I was getting so upset [ . . . ] that I just had to bring it to light,” she continued. That was when she decided to post on social media about experiencing sexual harassment on campus. Jacques has previously been vocal about the importance of safety on campus through an online petition to preserve the campus shuttle connecting residences to FIC. 

Jacques wrote on her Facebook page: “I deeply wish that SFU would take the sexual harassment issues on campus more seriously. Ever since construction in residence began [ . . . ] I have faced sexual harassment from construction workers almost everyday.” 

“If I am just walking to class, I get whistled at and catcalled [ . . . ] Women on campus deserve to feel safe, especially for those of us who live here. It makes for an extremely unsafe environment and I have had enough! ACTION NEEDS TO BE TAKEN.”

Jacques’s post was widely shared and caught the attention of SFU Residence and Housing, who met with Jacques, assured her that they were taking the concerns she posted on social media seriously, and said any construction workers found to be harassing students would be “escorted off-site, and weren’t allowed to come back,” according to Jacques.  

They also followed up with an email to Jacques, the text of which she posted to Facebook: “Dear Robyn, SFU Residence is growing: there is ongoing construction and renovations occurring at or near all residences [ . . . ] We wanted to take this time and inform you that having additional individuals in our community and on campus can sometimes lead to inappropriate incidents [ . . . ] street harassment known as catcalling

“These occurrences are unfortunate and we are working with campus public safety to ensure the safety and comfort of our residents. Everyone in our community has the right to feel safe. No one should have to put up with inappropriate comments, touching, gestures or actions.”

Jacques did have second thoughts before posting, however. “It was difficult for me to talk about it because I feel like sexual harassment [ . . . ] especially in the ‘Me Too’ era right now, not a lot of people are taking women’s word for it,” said Jacques. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, this happened to me,’ because not a lot of people will believe you. That’s what I was afraid would happen to me, but I’m glad it didn’t.” 

Paola Quirós, the coordinator of the Women’s Centre at SFU, frequently helps women who experience sexual harassment and violence on campus. “I think ‘Me Too’ has been very important [ . . . ] But just because Me Too is out there doesn’t mean that perpetrators and people that perpetrate rape culture in our society are more conscious about [sexual misconduct],” she says. “Many times, perpetrators are acting out of fear — ‘oh no, I don’t want anybody to say this about me’ — rather than acting out of ‘I shouldn’t do this.’”

Quiros praised Jacques courage in sharing her story on social media. “Many people think ‘this is performative,’ but no – It’s about being courageous in a society that still doesn’t believe people when they say ‘I have been harassed, I have been bullied, I have been sexually assaulted.’” 

She estimates that she helps students who have experienced sexual misconduct four to six times a month. 

“We wanted to create that space in our centre so that folks can start to have this conversation in a safer space,” she says, adding that the new Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office (SVSPO) has also helped greatly opening the discussion about sexual misconduct on campus, and making it safer for students.

The SVSPO opened in February 2018 to support students who have experienced sexual violence and harassment on campus. The Peak also reached out to the SVSPO for comment on how they support students who come to them.

“We strive to provide individuals who access our support services with a personalized care plan that suits their needs,” said Dr. CJ Rowe, director of the SVSPO. 

“This may include: referrals to counselling and medical services, safety planning, academic concessions and workplace accommodations, self-care resources and assistance navigating on and off-campus resources.”

 “When an individual wishes to make a formal report to the University, to the RCMP, or local police, we provide assistance to that person so that they can make an informed decision about next steps,” they said. “We support the individual by accompanying them to make formal complaints with the police and RCMP (if desired) and will intake their report when they are interested in engaging in a formal university process.”

 Students who wish to access counselling and support services can call SFU’s Women’s Centre at 778-782-3870, SFU’s Health and Counselling Centre at 778-782-5781, or SFU’s Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office at 778-782-7233. 

The Peak is continuing to look into the issue of sexual harassment and misconduct on campus. Should you wish to share your story (anonymously or not), please email the Editor-in-Chief at eic@the-peak.ca