Unresponsive Places: Interrogating Post Secondary Institutions’ Stagnation in Dealing with Violence

Monday Jun 03 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm
ANGU 347

Session Code: VLS5
Session Format: Regular
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Violence and Society
Session Categories: Regular Session

Canadian postsecondary institutions routinely fail to provide meaningful and much needed assistance to students subjected to sexualized, racialized and homo/transphobic violence. Armed with patchwork policies and procedures, most universities continue to lack sufficient resources for eliminating various forms of violence on campuses. Perplexingly, postsecondary campuses, have access to decades of scholarship, especially research and recommendations by feminist, critical race and queer theory scholars, but this access point in ‘higher learning’ has not translated into meaningful responses. Sexualized violence policies, for example, seldom reflect students’ needs, incorporate current research, or include meaningful consultation with campus experts. Tags: (In)equality, Feminist Studies, Violence

Organizers: Irene Shankar, Mount Royal University, Hijin Park, Brock University, Corrine Mason, Brandon University, Margot Francis, Brock University; Chairs: Irene Shankar, Mount Royal University, Corrine Mason, Brandon University


Margot Francis, Brock University; Hijin Park, Brock University

Violence, Activism and Complicity: Faculty Perspectives on Anti-sexual Violence Initiatives and Policies

This paper critically assesses sexual violence initiatives and policies at Brock University in St. Catharines, a comprehensive university in southern Ontario. Focusing on faculty perspectives, it explores questions such as: how might faculty lobby for accountability in our unions and faculty associations, which mobilize the language of academic freedom in order to question and/or oppose policies on sexual violence? How and why is the research of feminist scholars suddenly demanded, and then discarded in policy development? How might faculty challenge liberal definitions of consent (for example, in bystander education programs) which work to invisibilize hetero-patriarchy, gendered racism and ideas about competitiveness and productivity which determine whose bodies are considered worthy of protection? Finally, how might we apply an anti-racist, de-colonial lens to understanding gendered violence within the context of universities?

Tianna Follwell, McMaster University; Karen Robson, McMaster University

"We're going to hold them accountable": Explaining Attrition Among Black Students in Undergraduate STEM Programs

The lack of diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is a widespread concern. In Canada, this has prompted early intervention initiatives for underrepresented groups (DeCoito, 2016); however, STEM diversity has predominantly been analyzed on the basis of gender and failed to engage a more critical reflection on the dimensions of race. A growing body of research demonstrates an intricate relationship between racism and STEM culture in academia, highlighting several systemic barriers faced by Black students (McGee, 2016; McCoy et al., 2017). In addition to academic pressures, STEM environments can be particularly stressful and psychologically harmful for Black students facing persistent forms of racism that challenge their STEM identity (Brown et al., 2016; Ong et al., 2017). These negative experiences leave Black students less likely to graduate with a STEM degree than their white counterparts (Lott et al., 2009). Using semi-structured interviews conducted with undergraduate Black students previously enrolled in STEM programs (n=3), this pilot study explores the associated personal and systemic factors that contribute to their decision to withdraw before degree completion. The paper developed from this research seeks to better understand the academic experiences of Black students in STEM, while interrogating the consequential violence of institutional colourblindness.

Emily M. Colpitts, York University

The possibilities and limitations of intersectional approaches to sexual violence at Canadian universities

Grounded in my community-based anti-violence organizing experience and the findings of my doctoral research, this paper critically analyzes the ways that sexual violence is conceptualized in policies and prevention efforts at three Ontario universities. This paper highlights the importance of approaching campus sexual violence through an intersectional framework that addresses violence at both the individual and structural levels and the inseparability of sexual violence from other systems of oppression. It also reflects on the myriad ways that contemporary neoliberal institutional cultures and the broader political climate limit the possibility of intersectional approaches to campus sexual violence. This paper concludes that in the absence of an intersectional approach, efforts to prevent and address sexual violence on Canadian university campuses risk not only ineffectiveness, but also the potential to reproduce systems of oppression and marginalization by valorizing certain experiences of violence and obscuring others.  

Katelin Albert, University of Toronto; Erik Schneiderhan, University of Toronto; Amanda Couture-Carron, University of Toronto

60 days in the life of a student: A daily e-dairy study into unwanted sexual contact and mental health on a Canadian campus

Experiences of sexual assault and harassment are particularly common among post-secondary students. Most research in this area, however, is confined to retrospective accounts which may limit the analytic scope of the findings. Offering an alternative methodological approach, this paper documents incidents of unwanted sexual contact as close to when it occurs as possible using a 60-day daily survey of 145 post-secondary students. In so doing, this study demonstrates the pervasiveness of both sexual assault and harassment among students and the typical characteristics of these incidents (i.e., type of contact, location, perpetrator, witnesses, use of substances, etc.). Qualitative data from these daily surveys offer further, rich insight into the nature of the specific incidents as well as their implications for the survivor.   

Irene Shankar, Mount Royal University; Corrine Mason, Brandon University

Theorizing the Gap: Exclusion of Feminist Knowledge from Campus Sexual Violence Responses

Prompted by an international resurgence of activist Taranka Burke’s #metoo movement, there is talk of an unprecedented ‘cultural shift’ in societal understanding and attitudes towards sexualized violence, encouraging more women and men coming forward about their own experiences. Following the popularity of #metoo, scholars and students began to share their experiences of sexualized violence at academic institutions. For instance, a Lakehead University student went to the media after several unsuccessful attempts to lodge a formal complaint of assault against another student (Poisson & Mathieu, 2014). At Brandon University, a student sought media assistance to expose the university’s ‘gag order’ on victims of sexualized violence, which was instituted under threat of expulsion (Laychuk, 2016). Canadian news media is saturated with examples of PSIs failing to adequately respond to sexualized violence (CBC News, 2013; Global News Videos, 2013; The Canadian Press, 2018; Sherlock, 2015; Montreal Gazette, 2019). This news is consistent with scholarly literature that indicates that PSIs do not provide timely assistance, resources, or information to students in need (Garcia et al., 2011; Gonzales, Schofield & Schmitt, 2005; Gunraj et al., 2014; Orchowski, Meyer & Gidycz, 2009). Perplexingly, PSIs house decades of feminist scholarship on sexualized violence, but this access point in ‘higher learning’ has not translated into meaningful policies and practice (Magnussen and Shankar, forthcoming; Senn et al., 2014; Shankar, 2017). For instance, while the emerging policies and procedures invoke some language from feminist sexual violence research (e.g. intersectionality, survivor-centered, I-believe-you campaigns), the complaint procedures often do not reflect research recommendations (e.g. reporting continues to be required to obtain services, and the use of ‘gag orders’ is still rampant). Most importantly, the roots of sexualized violence on campuses remain untouched. Perplexingly, PSIs house decades of feminist scholarship on the issue, but this access point in ‘higher learning’ has not translated into meaningful policies and practice (Magnussen & Shankar, forthcoming; Senn et al., 2014; Shankar, 2017). Feminist researchers have contributed to knowledge creation on sexualized violence by investigating structural, systemic, and intersectional facets of the issue. In this paper, we ask: why isn’t this knowledge effectively mobilized by Canadian universities? Using Sara Ahmed (2012) and Nirmal Puwar’s (2004) conceptualization of ‘other others’ and somatic norm that inform institutional formations, we will deconstruct some of the structural barriers that prevents meaningful engagement with and utilization of feminist knowledge on sexualized violence.