Violence and Canadian Universities – More Problems

The University of Saskatchewan has a problem with campus safety. In the past six months there have been two rapes on campus and a number of incidents of sexual assault. Fed up with a slack campus security force and a school administration crippled with inertia, students and parents have taken matters into their own hands circulating a petition that now has close to 1,000 signatures calling on the University to conduct an independent safety audit.

I have been sitting on the fence with this one, in part naively believing that the mainstream press would pick up this story. In frustration I wrote an article on the subject and sent it to the op-ed pages of the National Post and the Globe and Mail – Canada’s two national newspapers. I was disappointed, but not surprized when the pieces were rejected; left fuming when I learned the reason for the rejection. An editor with the Globe and Mail explained to me that since the story hadn’t appeared in their paper yet, the time wasn’t right for commentary on the subject – in effect this was like saying the rapes didn’t take place until the Globe and Mail said they took place.

So how long do we have to wait for the mainstream media to pick up on this story? Apart from some pieces by CBC Saskatchewan, there has been nothing. More to the point, when will the national media wake-up and realize that violence on college campuses is a subject that parents and students take very seriously in both Canada and the United States?

At the University of Saskatchewan, the biggest obstacle students and parents are running uo against is the university itself. Never mind that the two incidents of rape are well documented – I myself have communicated with the families of both victims; they both appear very real to me – and that they occured over a span of six months; the University of Saskatchewan is still referring to these rapes as “alleged assaults”. It is bad enough to be violated in the manner these women have suffered; even more degrading to be in effect called a liar by those persons you thought were supposed to be working for your best interest.

Still, though the parents and families are shocked at this callous reaction from the School, I am not surprised. The murder of my sister, Theresa Allore while a student on the campus of Champlain college / Bishop’s University in Quebec in 1978 was the culmination of events that were unfolding for a full year prior to her death. Before Theresa died there had been a total of 10 sexual assaults reported on campus; all of them decried by students in the college paper, while being ignored and pooh-poohed by school administration. twenty-five years later we have a similar situation unfolding in Saskatchewan: Canadian university administrations must get it through there thick-headed skulls that violence on campus is their problem, and they must take ownership in finding a solution.

U of S is not alone here. In a recent discussion with victims advocates from accross the country problems with campus security were pointed out to me at the Universities of New Brunswick, Manitoba and Calgary. That pretty much covers the country coast to coast. If there are signs of progress, they’re not coming from the Schools. The University of Saskatchewan’s women’s center recently secured a government grant to employ a part time victim’s advocate to act as an arbiter for the students. It should be noted that the head of the School’s women’s center is a student who took on the grant-writing task in addition to her full school work load.

Also, in two days the University of Saskatchewan is hosting a forum to discuss the recent problems on campus. While students and families seem well prepared for the event, the School has made the very bad decision of sending campus security to act as its envoy – in effect sending a parking enforcement officer to a summit on campus violence.- School administration should be at the table themselves.

Still, there are some signs of progress. Just yesterday the University administration finally agreed to have an independent safety audit conducted for the entire campus (past audits were conducted “inhouse” by campus security). Hopefully, parents and students will be able to convince the administration, some way, that campus safety is a full time responsibility, equally important as test scores, endowments, and competitive rankings. As one student wrote on the U of S petition, ” I think that the university needs to recognize the needs of students, and stop focusing on their academic ranking on the Maclean’s university list”. Hum… now there’s a thought.

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