By Geoff Agombar
Local Journalism Initiative
Wednesday morning, students awoke to an eye-opening accusation posted at the bridge near the entrance to Bishop’s campus.
One bold, hand-painted letter per sheet, stretching several meters along the concrete divider protecting pedestrians from drivers. “HE RAPED ME I REPORTED HE’S STILL IN MY CLASS BU TAKE ACTION ♀”
Similar accusations and concerns echoed online throughout the day. Instagram users asked how the administration could make multiple posts about climate action, but had not commented on the inaction accused in the message by the bridge. Other posts referred to assaults on campus or drugged drinks in dorm rooms and at the bar. Some denounced the feeling that after security has come and reports are filed, the process just goes silent.
Calls to the sexual aggression response coordinator for comment were redirected to Student Affairs. Today of all days, the sexual aggression response coordinator was out of the office.
Dr. Stine Larsen-Anderson, Dean of Student Affairs calls back to respond that the administration has no plans to take down the sign, “It is a survivor’s right to express themselves in the manner that they choose. We will post a resource sheet alongside to inform students of the supports available to them.”
“This must be triggering for students walking by,” she adds. “We want to remind them we have free and confidential mental health resources. There is no wait list for those services.” Larsen-Andersen expresses a sincere desire to support students and makes herself available for further comment.
By nightfall, a second post had been pasted alongside the first. Four sheets, four sentences. “REPORTED A DRUGGING INCIDENT. I WAS ASKED WHAT I WAS WEARING. I NEVER HEARD BACK. IT’S BEEN 3 YEARS.”
Two weeks ago, Amie Godward assumed the office of VP of Student Life on the Student Representation Council (SRC). Godward is also co-founder and co-chair of the SRC’s Sexual Culture Committee (SCC).
“These specific students who have shared their story are survivors of sexual violence in our community,” says Godward. “We want to make sure that students feel heard and that they feel safe. That is our number one priority right now.”
“We support survivors in choosing how they share their story and take control of their experience,” Godward underlines. “This is a time to listen.”
Godward acknowledges the frustration and hurt students are expressing. Wednesday was a long day for SRC and SCC members. They spent it monitoring social media posts and responding to messages from students. In the afternoon, they called a meeting of the SCC. As an open committee, attendance fluctuates and Godward reports yesterday’s was the largest yet. She declined to quantify how many attended or what topics or stories were shared. “We really keep those meetings confidential. It is a safe space.”
Godward explains that the SCC is a relatively new committee, formally struck last January. Its creation emanated from a survey of the student body, which in turn was driven by discussions at a first-ever Take Back the Night Forum in Oct. 2020.
Take Back the Night is an international phenomenon since the early ‘70s. The current event at Bishop’s started in 2018 when students marched to reclaim paths where multiple sexual assaults had been reported the previous fall. At the time, organizers specifically stressed the importance of crossing Bishop’s Bridge, the site of one of the reported assaults.
It has been an eventful first year for the SCC. Three subcommittees were formed to work through on projects during the winter semester.
The policy review subcommittee completed an analysis and submitted recommendations to the university, but Godward was not in a position to share details of that document with The Record at this time.
The prevention and response subcommittee produced a pamphlet on resources available to students on campus and off campus in Lennoxville and Sherbrooke. These pamphlets were included in orientation packs for new students this fall, and distributed around campus in the library, at the SRC office and Student Services, for example. This committee is also investigating possibilities for online reporting and disclosure methods which are trauma-informed and survivor-centred, such as REES, which stands for Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors.
The sex education subcommittee worked toward building better shared understanding of bodies, society, relationships and consent. The SCC has also worked with the university to promote active bystander workshops, positive masculinity, and to support the LGBTQ+ community.
“We continue to work to improve and expand the services that are available to survivors,” Godward underlines. “The SCC was founded with the aim of helping to change the sexual culture here at Bishop’s. But we all have a responsibility to do that. It doesn’t take just one committee. It takes every part of our community to make that change happen, We’re dedicated to facilitating that change.”
Around midnight Wednesday night, the SCC announced a silent vigil “on the bridge next to the message” for Thursday at 7 p.m.
Two weeks ago, the SCC held the second Take Back the Night Forum. The next Take Back the Night March is scheduled for Nov. 18.