By Gordon Lambie
Stine Linden-Andersen, Bishop’s University’s Dean of Student Affairs, says that she is working to listen and take people’s concerns into account after messages denouncing Bishop’s response to acts of sexual violence have recently been put up around Lennoxville and on the school’s social media posts.
“I’m collecting feedback from anyone who would like to take action,” the dean said, sharing that the university is already in the process of revising its policy for the prevention of sexual violence. “We have a committee that oversees harassment and sexual harassment and we have an updated version that was just sent to the secretary general,” she said. The updates, she added, were built in large part around recommendations that came from the Students’ Representative Council and the school’s Sexual Culture Committee. “We hope to bring that forward to the board very soon.”
Policies aside, the message written out on the Bishop’s Bridge reading, “He raped me. I reported him. He’s still in my class. BU take action,” stands as an indication that the approach the school has taken so far is failing to inspire trust in the student body.
“This is the opposite of what we want,” the dean said. “We really want our students to feel safe and know our resources.”
Linden-Andersen opted not to share whether she was aware of the specific circumstances behind the sign on the bridge, but she did acknowledge that the messages point to a breakdown in trust between students and the institution.
According to the dean, Bishop’s approach to sexual violence is meant to be survivor-centered.
“We will work with the survivor to find the best possible solution, she said, explaining that when someone on campus shares an experience of sexual violence, the response team offers options that include both formal reporting and more informal approaches like mediation.
“When (survivors) come and disclose there is a discussion about whether or not they wish to make a formal report,” Linden-Andersen said. “We offer, every single time, to go to the police and we can support them in that.”
Although the University’s policy calls for a ‘safety evaluation’ to be carried out as soon as a disclosure is made in order to protect and support the individual who has reached out, the Dean said that disciplinary actions are only taken if a formal report is made. In the policy, a period of up to 90 days is given for assessment of the complaint, after which actions will be taken if the complaint is deemed valid.
Further recognizing the apparent lack of faith in the process as it is outlined at the moment, Linden-Andersen shared that the policy is subject to regular review and said that she welcomes input.
“I do a town hall where the whole community can come together and provide feedback and share concerns about our policies and the way we handle things,” she said, noting that one such meeting will be held next Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 3 p.m.
She also said that people are welcome to contact her directly if not interested in attending the public forum.
The Dean would not disclose how often the processes outlined in the policy are put into effect, but she said that the services are used “frequently.”
“Our (Sexual Aggression Response Coordinator) sees students every single day and she supports survivors,” she said.
Linden-Andersen added that she feels the student response on this issue is ‘tremendous.’
“The students are really coming together to find out how they can support and create some brave spaces for these survivors and we are working alongside them to find out how we can support that process,” the Dean said, expressing a hope that those who have spoken up in concern will consider getting involved with the school’s prevention program.
“The fight against sexual violence is long,” Linden-Andersen said. “We keep refining our procedures and the support we offer (…) but as long as we live in a society where sexual violence is tolerated at large, not just here at Bishop’s, then it’s a long battle.”
She also encouraged anyone in need of support to reach out to the resources on and off campus including CALACS Estrie (819-563-9999 or toll-free 1-877-563-0793, firstname.lastname@example.org),The Lennoxville and District Women’s Centre (819 564 6626), the Sexual Aggression Response Coordinator, Dominique Pelletier (819-822-9600 ext. 2695, email@example.com) and the SASH Support group for students affected by sexual violence (firstname.lastname@example.org)