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May 25, 2015

Wilfrid Laurier University presented its strategy for addressing gendered violence to the Ontario government’s Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment at a recent public hearing in Kitchener.

David McMurray, vice-president of Student Affairs, and Lynn Kane, communications and initiatives coordinator for the Diversity and Equity Office, shared Laurier’s strategy to address sexual and gendered violence on-campus through initiatives such as the university’s Gendered Violence Task Force and The Change Project, a research collaboration involving members of Laurier’s Faculty of Social Work and the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region.

The government’s select committee is travelling the province to gather public input regarding the prevention of sexual violence and harassment. The committee, part of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s “It’s Never Okay” action plan to create safer workplaces and communities for women and minorities, will make recommendations to the Ontario Legislature with respect to prevention policy and response processes to those who have experienced sexual violence and harassment.

Laurier’s Gendered Violence Task Force, an organizing body that consists of over 150 student, staff, faculty and community volunteers, oversees and supports the numerous gendered-violence prevention and awareness initiatives being undertaken at Laurier. It will address the broad culture of misogyny prevalent on university campuses by creating safe, survivor-based policies and procedures. 

“I think Laurier is taking leadership in this area by labelling the problem as gendered violence,” said Kane. “It is a much broader umbrella that includes racism, able-ism, trans and homophobia. But it also makes the solution and policy process more challenging because there are so many issues to address. However, it means we are trying to get to the root of the problem by looking at campus culture overall.”

One particular initiative, The Change Project, equipped Laurier’s Gendered Violence Task Force with 11 recommendations to change the culture on campus by enhancing the prevention programs and support services provided by the university. These recommendations will be put into action by a Gendered Violence Action Plan executed by six working groups that are part of the task force. The groups include: policy and protocol: review, creation and implementation; education and training; awareness and communication; research and assessment; support and services; student engagement groups; staff and faculty engagement: communities of practice.

Students have been closely involved in helping the task force create a distinct policy that will inform reporting and procedural processes. A group of Brantford students, called Advocates for Student Culture as Consent (ASCC), began researching and developing a gendered violence policy in class and have continued their work in coordination with the Gendered Violence Task Force activity. They will present the policy to Senate for approval in the fall. The draft policy is unique in that it will be an all-encompassing policy on gendered violence for the entire campus community.

Laurier has had a longstanding interest in creating a violence-free environment for students, staff and faculty and the broader community.

“Laurier has taken the issue of sexual and gendered violence very seriously for a long time,” said McMurray, who also serves as chair of the Council of Ontario Universities’ Reference Group addressing issues of sexual violence. “There are a vast number of people devoting their time to progressive solutions that are proactive, not reactive.”

Other Laurier initiatives include: Not My Laurier, End the Silence, Laurier Brantford’s Women’s Safety Action Group, and the Collective for Feminist Action and Research.

Laurier’s Diversity and Equity Office opened in 2006 as the Student Diversity Office. It is responsible to encompass diversity and equity-related services for students, staff and faculty at all Laurier campuses and provide the opportunity to acquire the tools needed to engage in the collaborative process of creating a more inclusive academic and social environment on campus.

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