Current Issues of Relevance to Academic Women

Aboriginal University Transition Program

Update Regarding the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy

Academic Women's Recommendation to the Sexual Violence Policy Group

Aboriginal University Transition Program

April 2017

At the Academic Women Annual Reception on October 27, 2016, more than 50 women gathered to welcome Vice-President Academic and Provost Peter Keller, whose expressed interest in indigenous education prompted Dolores van der Wey to offer a keynote address, "Stress Lines: A Critical Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action," which suggested how SFU might move forward in this area, where she and several other AW members teach and serve. 

Since VPA Peter Keller’s April 19, 2017 announcement that the Aboriginal University Transition Program (AUTP) is being shut down, there has been strong and persistent criticism of the decision within and beyond SFU for a host of reasons, including the absence of consultation with the key players in the program – students (past and present), instructors, and the program coordinator. 

A letter writing campaign directed to VPA Keller and President Petter, from groups and individuals, is underway, a petition to have the program reinstated (including Coordinator Natalie Wood-Wiens and instructors) is being circulated, and several meetings have been scheduled on this issue with VPA Keller that include Indigenous students, instructors, and faculty.

If you are supportive of this reinstatement initiative please do participate in any way that works for you. We need to keep the momentum going!

The link to the petition is here.

Update Regarding the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy

March 2017

After months of research and community consultation, The Sexual Violence and Misconduct Prevention, Education and Support Policy was passed on March 30, 2017 by the Board of Governors. Academic Women is deeply grateful to everyone who contributed to the process, and is pleased to see SFU moving forward on these vital issues. Many people participated in the community consultation process that occurred in early 2017.

If you are interested in seeing how the draft policy was revised in light of those consultations, please have a look at the PDF document below this text, which compares the draft and final version.

Our work on this front continues. Many questions remain as to how this policy will be operationized. We encourage members to remain actively interested in the implementation of this policy, and will provide news as we receive it.

Academic Women’s Recommendation to the Sexual Violence Policy Group

September 2016


Author: Elise Chenier

With: Kaayla Ashlie, Genevieve Fuji-Johnson, and Özlem Sensoy



Sexual harassment, assault, and violence is endemic in our society of which universities are a part. Sexual harassment, assault, and violence creates a hostile living, learning, and working environment, and contributes to what legal scholar Constance Backhouse has described as a “chilly climate” on campus for women. We now know that these problems are even more acute for women of colour, indigenous women, and women with disabilities who experience sexual harassment, assault, and violence at significantly higher rates, and that they also disproportionately impact non-gender-conforming and non-heterosexual people. We acknowledge that heterosexual and non-heterosexual men are also subject to sexual harassment, assault, and violence, and that any plan to address these issues must be inclusive of all genders.


Despite more than forty years of research on sexual harassment, assault, and violence, the issue is still not well understood by the general public or even members of the judiciary, as several recent cases clearly illustrate (; From this we can safely surmise that it is likely not well understood by members of the SFU community who are in a position to respond to, and to provide appropriate support for a survivor/victim of sexual harassment, assault, or violence. Not only is the subject uncomfortable and painful to contemplate, it is also complicated by deeply entrenched sexist, racist, able-ist, patriarchal attitudes toward victims/survivors. When confronted with a disclosure of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, it is common for people, including women, to question the veracity of a claim of and to speculate on the culpability of the victim/survivor. Any attempt to address the problem of sexual harassment, assault, and violence must begin with and develop from a deep understanding and acceptance of these well-established facts.


To quote from the UBC Sexual Assault Panel’s June 2016 report “Sexual Assault at the University of British Columbia: Prevention, Response, and Accountability”:

“The University must foster a climate that takes sexual assault seriously, providing a working and learning environment that demonstrates a commitment to ending sexual assault at UBC.

·       Acknowledge the scale and severity of sexual assault at UBC

·       Avoid defensiveness and attachment to the status quo

·       Take responsibility for the ways that power operates and becomes entrenched and reproduced within universities

·       Commit to a proactive approach rather than crisis management

·       Design swift, transparent and open systems of communication to share information on sexual assault in a way that reflects the severity of the issue

·       Be transparent in sharing information about how decisions are made

·       Actively mobilize and engage all segments of the campus community to do their share in opposing sexual assault, supporting survivors, and improving the climate of equality on campus and in society.” (p. 11)

It is also well known that incidences of sexual harassment, assault, and violence are underreported. To date, no study has been undertaken to explore this issue at SFU specifically, but we can safely assume that this reality holds no less true here, and indeed incidences reported in the media this past year supports this. There is also evidence to suggest that people who work in institutions such as universities sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly discourage or repress reports of sexual harassment, assault, and violence, therefore ensuring that they are not made a part of the institutional record and preventing university officials from providing adequate supports and from maintaining accurate reporting records. The reasons are likely multiple; a desire to preserve the reputation of a department or program; an aversion to dealing with such a difficult and painful issue; embarrassment about the issue; and a failure or unwillingness to acknowledge the seriousness of a complaint are all probable causes.


More specific to SFU, it is widely recognized that the Office of Human Rights, which was created in the aftermath of Rachel Marsden’s 1996 sexual assault complaint at SFU, is structured in such a way as to discourage rather than facilitate reporting. For example, the Office of Human Rights’ website explains that the Office does not act as an advocate for a complainant, and that complaints will be vigorously investigated. The site does not indicate how or where a sexual assault or sexual violence survivor might find needed support, or even if the university provides it. However proper this may be procedurally from a legal point of view, from the point of view of a student who has experienced sexual assault or violence, it is deeply discouraging. Despite the attention paid to the problem of sexual assault at SFU in the 1990s, and concerted efforts to create a complaints system that was fair and just, new research (Chenier and Ashlie, 2016) shows that the solutions devised in the late 1990s made it more difficult for victims/survivors to seek and receive support, and that in the years since then, new efforts have emerged in a piecemeal fashion. As SFU’s Wellbeing and Mental Health Advisor Lisa Ogilvie and Director-Community Safety / Personal Security Advisor Julie Glazier have indicated, those currently providing services in this area work in “silos,” and lack co-ordination, which compromises the institution’s ability to provide a clear and proactive response to victims/survivors.


For all of these reasons, we do not know the degree to which members of the SFU community experience sexual harassment, assault, and violence, only that it occurs with much greater frequency than has been officially recorded, reported, and acknowledged. If the purpose of the Sexual Violence Policy is function as a tool to directly address the problems of sexual harassment, Academic Women holds that effective reporting and data collection measures must adopted as part of the development and implementation of our Sexual Violence Policy.


In the 1990s legal scholar and historian Constance Backhouse used the term “chilly climate” to describe the university environment for female faculty in Ontario universities, and while some the types of “micro-aggressions” aimed at female faculty she detailed such as bum-patting and sexist jokes are less likely to occur today, sexism continues to thrive and is evident even in the remuneration of our labour (Backhouse, Breaking Anonymity: The Chilly Climate for Women Faculty, 1995). The recent SFU Salary Equity Report (2016) illustrates this phenomenon on the SFU campus. The devaluing of women that we see in cases of sexual harassment, assault, and violence is an extension of this social problem, and is evident in everything from the “chilly climate” for women, which includes a constant awareness that you may be subject to unwanted sexual attention and even touching, and the failure of an institution to adequately address these issues. Women function on campus, as in life, with a keen, if not always conscious, awareness that their bodies will be scrutinized and judged, that they may encounter unwanted sexual attention or touching, that they are limited in their ability to prevent it from happening, and that to report it will likely elicit questions – by friends, family, people in positions of authority, and most certainly themselves – about their own culpability in causing the harassment, assault, or violence. This everyday reality has a significant impact on our ability to work and learn, and sometimes results in victims/survivors prematurely choosing to end an academic course of study.


Fortunately, there are significant steps SFU can take to take the chill out of the air and to significantly improve the day-to-day experience of all women and gender non-conforming people on campus. In other words, it is completely within our means and capabilities to make meaningful and substantive changes on this front, which is in keeping with our strategic vision. These changes will have a profound effect on the experiences of all members of our community: it will make the university a better, safer, more socially and intellectually rewarding experience for all members of the community, it will increase student retention rates, and can even attract new scholars and new donors keen to support our efforts in this area. Indeed, according to the Executive Director of Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, at no time in her thirty-five year history as an advocate has there been more public and political support for tackling this issue (Porteous, 2016).


To this end, Academic Women calls upon SFU’s leadership to adopt the recommendations made by the Ending Violence Association of BC as outlined in “Campus Sexual Violence: Guidelines for a Comprehensive Response, May 2016” (Appendix 1) This organization has extraordinary expertise on this topic, and as academics we place great value on their long-term commitment to understanding and addressing violence.


We also support the UBC Sexual Assault Panel’s June 2016 report “Sexual Assault at the University of British Columbia: Prevention, Response, and Accountability,” which draws extensively on research conducted across the country (Appendix 2). We differ in only one respect: whereas the UBC Sexual Assault Panel recommends that the university’s existing counseling services determine the best way forward regarding the provision of support for survivors (pp 14-15), we call for an autonomous sexual violence centre staffed by two Sexual Assault Nurse Educators (SANE) that provides a robust range of services to all members of the SFU community, including education programming, faculty consulting, and advocacy on sexual harassment, assault, and violence.


This recommendation is based on our research on Oregon State University, an institution of similar size to SFU (current enrollment 28,886) and “committed to taking an active stance in survivor-focused health care.”



At OSU, survivor-focused health care has the following key features:


1. information about the options for reporting and seeking assistance are clearly provided on a single, easy to find website:


A Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) Centre is administratively connected to, but physically autonomous from, existing health and counseling services. The Director has over thirty years’ experience in the field of trauma and sexual violence. In addition to providing services on site where students will receive confidential support and discusses reporting options, it operates a helpline.


An interview with the Director revealed four key pieces of information:


1.     SASS ensures that a survivor only has to tell her story once (a recommendation for such a system appears in almost every expert study we consulted on this topic);

2.     President Edward Ray’s public acknowledgment of the reality of sexual harassment, assault, and violence affecting students; his collaborative relationship and public appearance with a sexual violence survivor; and his robust support    for the creation of these programs has been instrumental in changing the culture on campus ( ;;;

3.     Survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and violence often do not need counseling. Sometimes all they need is the assurance that what happened to them is wrong. This assurance can play a major stabilizing role in their mental health.

4.     Ideally a Sexual Assault Support Services Centre would provide more than counseling, advocacy, and education. Extended support would include things like discussion groups and yoga and meditation classes. Professional counseling is essential, but support can take many more forms.


In addition to SASSS, members of the OSU have access to two Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) who offer “a fully integrated program to support any student, regardless of gender identity, who is a survivor of sexual assault. By offering exams at the campus health center, sexual assault survivors can be in familiar surroundings with caring clinicians and do not have to be concerned about arranging transportation to the hospital. Survivors can continue seeing a Student Health clinician for any other health exams as well, which allows for a continuum of care for the survivor that includes sensitivity to their experience.”


Our investigation into the benefits of a stand-alone, autonomous Sexual Assault Support Services Centre have led us to the following insights:


Advantages of a stand-alone sexual assault advocacy and counseling center


Centralizes reporting

·      eliminates confusion and the risk of improper procedural response (UBC)

·      allows SFU to keep better data which will aid in meeting the new legislation’s reporting requirements and measure the effectiveness of any measures taken

·      those reporting harassment, assault, or violence only have to tell their story once


Cost effective

·      most victims/survivors do not want counseling; if they can report, receive support, they will be stabilized and will not need ongoing services

·      those reporting will not be drawing on the time of multiple service providers (security, Health and Counseling, resident life coordinators), thus freeing those people up to deal with other issues

·      improves student retention rates

·      anecdotal evidence suggests that it will help, not harm, donor relations


Will distinguish SFU as a leader on this front, improves our public image

·      the cat is out of the bag – sexual violence and assault is an everyday experience, and currently all systems in place, from workplace policies to the courts, fail to affirm and protect women’s right to live without unwanted sexual attention from men

·      comprehensive service provision provided by the university will show that we are committed to providing the best possible learning, teaching, and working environment possible

·      current efforts by students to extract a tuition levy to provide these services suggest that SFU is unwilling to take responsibility for the safety of female students, and is part of the problem. Let’s be part of the solution.


Our current services are insufficient

·      Presently the best and most knowledgeable on-campus staff advocate for survivors is Julie Glazier in Security; an institution of our size cannot rest on the shoulders of a single person, and is not a sustainable model

·      Currently Health and Counseling has a wait time of 2-3 weeks for those who have experienced assault or violence in the past, but research shows women rarely report immediately, yet they are no less in crisis

·      To the best of my knowledge, Health and Counseling services does not hire staff based on a counselors ability to handle cases of this nature

·      There are no advocates on campus, we do not collect data on these cases but instead obscure it by calling such cases “misconduct”, and there is no ongoing education campaign to inform students and staff of their rights and obligations


Just good practice

·      for survivors, where to go for help is clear, and services provided are consistent, comprehensive, and informed by the most current research and best practices in the field.

·      Stabilization is critical: research shows that people who have experienced gender and sexual-based harassment and violence need affirmation that the abuse they have endured is not their fault, and that their reactions are normal, not abnormal. Affirmation is often sufficient support

·      Research shows that the best way to empower the disenfranchised is to empower them, not provide sensitivity training to those in positions of power. An advocacy centre is essential if we want empower those who experience gender and sexual-based oppression.


Virtually everyone we spoke to at Oregon State University, including the President himself, indicated that top administrators’ public affirmation of their commitment to combatting sexual violence by both providing the services outlined above, and ensuring appropriate disciplinary actions against perpetrators. Based on this evidence, Academic Women calls upon SFU’s leadership, including the President, the VP Academic and Provost, the Board of Governers and the Senate to publicly affirm a commitment to addressing sexual harassment, assault and violence. The VP Academic has already acknowledged the need for more than just policies; the culture must change. The culture to which he refers is often today described as “rape culture,” meaning a culture in which the sexualization of women for the pleasure of men, and acts of sexual aggression toward women, is normalized. Academic Women wants to also draw attention to how “rape culture” creates a chilly climate for women, as well as for people who are in other ways marginalized for sex, gender, racial, and other differences from a white, male, heterosexual norm.


This leads to our third recommendation: In developing a stand-alone sexual assault policy, it is clear that there are two distinct issues that, we argue, must be addressed separately:


            1) Consequences for perpetrators, which includes developing institutional procedures for determining wrong-doing;

            2) Resources and responses to members of the community who experience sexual harassment, assault, and violence


Victims of sexual harassment, assault, and violence require an immediate and proactive institutional response; we agree with the recommendations made in the EVA Report and in “Sexual Assault at the University of British Columbia,” and note that these recommendations have been made and in some instances adopted on campuses across Canada and the United States. Conversely, establishing consequences for perpetrators requires establishing culpability, a process that must necessarily take time to complete. One cannot provide an immediate and proactive response to a person who experiences sexual harassment, assault, and violence if the response depends on a positive assessment of the veracity of the complainant’s claims, and a determination of wrong-doing on the part of the accused perpetrator. It needs to be stated that providing support for an individual who claims to have been harassed, assaulted, or the victim of sexual violence does not imply a finding of guilt for the person or persons the victim identifies as the perpetrator. For these reason, the policy must clearly distinguish between these processes and lay out fully autonomous procedures for both.


A recent example of why and how this is critical is found in the 2015-6 case involving a single male student who lived in residence. The administrator who handled the situation explained to me that she was reluctant to take action to protect the safety of residents because the complainants and the assailant knew each other, and alcohol was involved. The implication here was that she was not convinced that an assault had taken place and that the perpetrator posed a danger to others. This illustrates how, without a policy directing them to do otherwise, administrators and other people in positions of power may feel called upon to determine the veracity of a complaint before taking any action. Without expertise in this area, it is inevitable that such an assessment will draw on stereotypical and outmoded ideas, as was the case here. These assaults perfectly model the most typical type of sexual assault, sometimes called “date rape.” Decades of research has shown that it is common that assaults and violence occurs between people who know each other and where alcohol is involved. By separating the process of responding to a complaint and assessing the veracity of the complaint, we would avoid this type of situation, can attend to the needs of the complainant, and protect staff and members of the administration from charges of failing to protect the health and safety of students or other members of the SFU community. It is worth nothing that there is legal precedent for this: in the 1986 “Jane Doe” successfully sued the Board of Commissioners for the Metro Toronto Police for negligence, a violation of her equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and an infringement of her Charter right to security of the person because the Police had failed to issue a warning in a neighbourhood where a serial rapist was operating. (


The university must decide how, as part of this policy, it will deal with perpetrators.

It cannot rely only on the criminal justice system because a) the criminal justice system proceeds very slowly and b) reporting a crime is on its own not sufficient for the Crown to press charges; the Crown must be convinced that the case can be won. Clearly there must be effective and meaningful mechanisms in place to allow the university to determine if a member of the community has perpetrated an act of sexual violence. Because these involve complex legal questions beyond our field of expertise, we offer no suggestions on this point. We hope, however, to be included in the Policy Group’s conversations about this in the coming months.


Our fourth recommendation is that SFU align this initiative with SFU’s strategic vision – “to be the leading engaged university defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement” by supporting an application for a Canada Research Chair with research expertise in intersectional approaches to gender equity and sexual harassment, assault, and violence. Such a position would provide valuable research and intellectual support to the university as it implements its sexual violence policy, and would attract young scholars to contribute to this field of research, a field that overlaps with the Departments of Criminology, Sociology and Anthropology, and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. It would also align with the existing creation of a Senior Director of Employment Equity as proposed in the “Salary Equity Recommendation Committee Final Report, September 1, 2016.”


I have described recommendations that are unique from those which are advanced in the EVA’s “Campus Sexual Violence: Guidelines for a Comprehensive Response, May 2016.” and the UBC Sexual Assault Panel’s June 2016 report “Sexual Assault at the University of British Columbia: Prevention, Response, and Accountability.” We reiterate that our recommendation to the Policy Group is to also adopt the recommendations found in these two documents, which are attached as appendices.


To quote President and Vice-Chancellor Andrew Petter, SFU is about putting “words into action… We have created a vision that I believe is authentic and distinct. Now the real work begins. The potential of this vision,” he continues, “rests with you: SFU students, staff, faculty, alumni, supporters and community partners.” ( background.html) Drawing on the most advanced research on the problem of sexual harassment, assault, and violence, and how universities can most effectively respond, we have done our work. Now, it is up to SFU’s leaders to make this vision a reality. Academic women is committed to working with members of the SFU community at all levels to contribute toward a proactive, long term, survivor-centric approach to addressing sexual harassment, assault, and violence. 

The two appendices to this report can be found here:

Campus Sexual Violence: Guidelines for a Comprehensive Response, May 2016” (Appendix 1) 

UBC Sexual Assault Panel’s June 2016 report “Sexual Assault at the University of British Columbia: Prevention, Response, and Accountability”  (Appendix 2)