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Groups respond to graphic group chat, alleged gang sexual assault

Photo by Tina Wallace

The university administration and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) have each created a task force to promote respect and equality on campus.

Both task forces, though independent, are in response to recent events at the U of O, including the exposure of an explicit private conversation between five men concerning SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy, and the alleged gang sexual assault of a female by members of the men’s hockey team.

At a press conference on March 6, U of O president Allan Rock asserted that campus is safe and that there are various mechanisms, resources, and services in place to keep it that way.

“Their mandate is to provide recommendations on how to encourage cultural change and respectful behaviour on campus so that all students, women in particular, can learn and work in an environment free of harassment and sexualized violence,” he said.

The task force will consist of faculty, staff, students, and outside experts, according to Rock. He said it will take effect in the fall of 2014, but its members will be announced shortly. He added many other universities have similar task forces which have “started the conversation.”

“We wish to join it and we believe we can add a great deal,” Rock said.

The SFUO has teamed up with the Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) to create another task force to fight rape culture on campus. They hosted a press conference March 11, along with Susan Spronk of the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO), where they announced the project has obtained more than 200 signatures of support in the last week alone, including signatures from renowned activists and community groups.

“We felt like a task force gives space for more action-oriented goals and leaves space for an action plan to address and fight rape culture on campus,” said SFUO vp equity Nicole Desnoyers.

She said the task force would include students who are not necessarily involved in student politics but who want to see a change on campus.

Seamus Wolfe, external commissioner for the GSAÉD, said the student unions work closely together and seek mutual support, especially in campaigns like this one. He added that they are skeptical of the administration’s task force, which will be closed off to the public and will focus on respect and equality, as opposed to the specific issue of rape culture.

“The fundamental difference between the task force we’re doing and that of the university is that ours is going to be open to anybody,” he said. “Any interested student, professor, staff can participate, and is encouraged to engage in the processes and the working groups that are going to be created, whereas at the university, it’s going to be a closed group that will not be very participatory.”

Wolfe said the SFUO and GSAÉD have implemented and executed several campaigns in the past, such as the No Means No campaign and bystander training.

“Fundamentally, this work happens on a day-to-day basis and is not simply going to stop because the university has woken up to a PR nightmare,” he said. “We would like to see not a PR stunt by the university but rather a widespread participatory discussion on this campus.”

He said the task force is set to launch next Friday, March 21, with an open town hall meeting.

“People are really engaged,” he said. They really want an outlet both to express themselves, because this is bringing up a lot of emotions, and they’re looking for a way to engage. This is a way to do both.”

Desnoyers reiterated that the issue goes above and beyond issues of respect and equality. She said rape culture is a separate and larger issue, which can be manifested differently from group to group and location to location.

“Rape culture can look very different in a residence from how it may be manifested within a sports team or in a club or a federated body,” she said.

In an email to the Fulcrum, Rock congratulated the SFUO and GSAÉD on their initiative and encouraged students, staff, and faculty to participate in the town hall meeting. He added that he wants the two task forces to collaborate.

Spronk said the APUO is “critical” of the administration task force’s focus on sexualized violence.

“In my opinion, such a task force is looking at the tree when students are asking for the forest,” she said. “We need to understand the landscape of this issue rather than a particular instance of this issue.”

Rock agreed, saying sexualized violence is a common societal issue, and that “universities and colleges are the ideal places to forge new strategies to deal with the prevalence of sexualized violence.”