I recently co-authored a book chapter on gendered violence on university campuses in the book, Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities. Activism, Institutional Responses, and Strategies for Change (E. Quinlan, A. Quinlan, Fogel, and Taylor, 2017), published by WLU Press.
The need to respond to and address gendered and sexual violence has been a longstanding issue on university campuses, which has led to a growing need for adequate and timely institutional action and dialogue. Increasingly, universities are being called to respond to mandates of accountability as it pertains to the overall student experience. In the absence of institutional directives, students themselves have taken up the call to respond to and address sexual violence on university campuses.
Our chapter titled “Collective Conversations, Collective Action: York University’s sexual assault survivors’ support line and students organizing for campus safety”, raised questions about the role of student activism in creating organizational and campus cultural change around issues of gendered based violence and sexual assault on university campuses.
In particular, I examined my experiences as an anti-violence student activist at a post-secondary institution and reflected upon my work as one of the coordinators of a peer-support, student-run post-secondary sexual assault organization. We documented and analyzed a significant period of student protest during our time that unified the student body on issues of campus violence and successfully informed decisions of the university on how to address such issues of violence on campus.
Through researching and writing this chapter with another student activist and a faculty member, I learned that student activism is an integral part in changing the culture in post-secondary educational contexts. Students offer a nuanced perspective on the student experience and hold a dynamic role to play in understanding and addressing complex institutional issues. As such, creating capacity for student leadership and meaningful participation is paramount in addressing contemporary issues in higher education today.
This work brings attention to the changing campus culture around sexual assault as well as the capacity of students to come together to build campus community, while prioritizing the safety and wellness of their own student population across intersections of the student experience.
Being part of this project has helped me to truly appreciate the student perspective as I myself have returned to school as a Master of Education student in the field of student affairs.
My experience as a student activist has long served as my entry point into the field of student affairs and continues to inspire my professional trajectory as an emerging student affairs professional. Reflecting on my life as a student continues to inform my practice as a student affairs professional in that I am acutely aware of the need for alternative approaches to understanding and addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education, such as through complex anti-oppressive or social justice frameworks.
My hope is that current students organizing for anti-violence activism on their campuses know that their actions can make a difference to the health and wellbeing of their campus community. The most surprising part of this project is realizing that the work I did to address issues of gendered violence is still as relevant today as it was when I was an undergraduate student.
I currently have research underway that examines the needs and goals of student affairs professionals who choose to pursue graduate programming in student affairs. This research is being conducted with Kristiina Montero in order to more deeply examine the way emerging student affairs professionals develop as experts, leaders and strategic partners in improving campus life for everyone.
With a continually pressing need for equitable, diverse and inclusive university policies and practices, understanding the requisite professionalization skills and knowledge of student affairs professionals is a fundamental step toward responding to such calls of action and accountability related to the student experience.
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