• Avery McQuirter

Sexual Violence Prevention on University Campuses

Tiana Thomas (she/her) is a student at Carleton University and is widely known as a student leader and activist.

Anthony Valenti (he/him) is a student at Carleton University and a councillor at the Carleton Academic Student Government.

In September 2021, Anthony and Tiana released a proposal to Carleton University, advocating for increased programs dedicated to sexual violence prevention. This proposal came after disturbing reports of rampant sexual violence during Western University's fall orientation. We interviewed them to learn more about student advocacy and university safety programs.

What motivates you to advocate for sexual violence prevention?

Tiana: I believe what motivates me to advocate for sexual violence prevention is the lack of advocacy that comes from others. I have found people do not talk much about this topic for two reasons; either people have become so normalized to the abuses of the patriarchal system that they have accepted sexual violence as an unfortunate reality of our world, or people are so emotionally exhausted by the topic that they simply do not want to engage with it at all. While I understand these reasons, I just feel I am too angry to stay quiet. Someone had to speak up, and what I discovered is not that people do not care about this subject or do not want to see change, but the energy, time, and public criticism required to be an advocate is not something everyone is capable of. While it is draining, I know a lot of students and survivors look to me for guidance and to be a voice for them, so I will continue my work for them.

Anthony: There is no ulterior motive to advocate for, what should be, a basic guarantee of post-secondary education: being free from sexual violence and abuse. It is an issue that everyone should unequivocally oppose. Personally, I will continue to fight until our Department of Equity Services reports zero acts of sexual violence occurring at Carleton University.

How can students aid in this advocacy work?

Tiana: There is so much students can do to combat sexual violence! And the best part is it ranges from high energy to low energy, so people can be as involved as they are comfortable with.

The first thing students can do is keep the conversation going. In classrooms, on social media, and beyond, sexual violence is way too predominant to become normalized and disregarded. For students that run organizations, clubs, or are in fraternities or sororities, integrate conversations into your orientations about respect, consent, gender equality, survivor resources and more to ensure those around you are in and maintain a safe environment.

The second thing students can do –and this is very important: continue to put pressure on your university’s administration to adopt better prevention mechanisms. Send emails, start and sign petitions, attend open opinion sessions, protest, do whatever you need to to show those in leadership positions at your academic institution that consent education, through data collection, high-level staff training, accessible resources, and other prevention mechanisms and accountability practices are standardized and prioritized. Without consistent and wide student advocation, nothing will change. I am proud of the work I have done so far, but the reality is, I am graduating soon, and I cannot make change alone. Everyone doing a small action can lead to big change!

What are the current issues with sexual violence prevention strategies/policies that post-secondary institutions employ?

Anthony: The current issues, while many, can be classed into two categories: Education and Prevention, or lack thereof. Tiana and I’s research and work on this topic have overwhelmingly shown us that there is a lack of education surrounding the issue; and a profound lack of preventative strategies which could inhibit such an atrocity from occurring. Productive policies to resolve these inadequacies could, not only help attack the issue as a whole but assist in limiting his propagation at our university.

How can students assist in sexual violence prevention on a day-to-day basis?

Anthony: One word: Conversation. The issue with efforts to prevent and limit sexual violence is that the conversations are difficult to have, and therefore many opt to cease having them. Despite the difficulty, these conversations are crucial to any progress towards education and prevention of sexual violence. The ability to have productive, effective, and constructive conversations regarding sexual violence and sexual violence prevention will allow for meaningful change to take place.

What can post-secondary institutions do to ameliorate their sexual violence prevention strategies?

Tiana: The very first step is for universities to recognize with urgency the prevalence of sexual violence within universities. Universities will have support services for survivors and have a sexual violence policy, but preventing this violence from happening before it takes place requires continuous maintenance, education, and action.

Next, the university should conduct a very high-level survey of the student body and university community, determining the rate of sexual harassment and assault, collecting details on time, place, and age of the survivor and the perpetrator, and ask about student’s confidence in campus resources in order to determine patterns and situations of high risk. This is important so the university can get a picture of where their strongest prevention and support efforts need to be targeted.

Once the university has throughout information on the state of sexual violence on their campus, the university needs to use that information to implement mandatory annual campus-wide education about sexual violence prevention and where survivors can seek resources, improve the training of staff –especially residence staff– and faculty, and severely improve the accessibility and user-friendliness of survivor resources, particularly websites and contact methods.

It is time we start taking the basic safety of students much more seriously.

Tiana is hosting a virtual art exhibit with the CUSA Womxn's Centre and the Carleton University Sexual Assault Support Centre for Sexual Assault Awareness Week. Check out the exhibit here:

Thank you Tiana and Anthony!

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