Dalhousie’s Board of Governors approved a stand-alone sexualized violence policy Tuesday (June 26) that lays out how the university will respond to disclosures and reports of sexualized violence from members of the campus community. Senate previously approved the policy in May.
The new policy, which applies to all staff, faculty, students and visitors to campus, is designed to ensure a timely, coordinated, consistent and fair response to disclosures and reports and also includes directives for increased prevention efforts at the university.
In addition, the policy will play an educational role at the university by increasing awareness of the impacts of sexualized violence and of the options, resources and services available to those who have experienced it and to members of the community in general.
“One of the many improvements embedded in this policy is that it is far more survivor-centric,” says Katherine Harman, Dal’s acting vice-provost, student affairs. “It was designed so that both the investigative process and decision-making are carried out with survivors in mind.”
The result of more than a year of campus-wide consultation, the policy replaces the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy and responds directly to the provincial government’s call for all post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia to develop stand-alone policies to address the issue.
The Board’s green light for the policy follows approval last month by Senate, under whose authority the policy jointly falls. Human Rights & Equity Services (HRES) will be responsible for administering the policy, which will be reviewed after its first six months and every two years thereafter if determined necessary.
While the policy is effective as of September 1 this year, many of the supports outlined within are already in place, while others will be ramped up towards the start of the fall term.
A clearer process
One of the biggest changes coming from the policy is the creation of a single disclosure and reporting process for all.
While the previous policy and its interaction with other policies, such as the Code of Student Conduct, meant that different processes were followed based on an individual’s position at the university, now all students, faculty, staff and others involved in alleged incidents are offered the same procedures.
“The new policy is a lot more accessible for people and provides a recognition that this issue, and the experience of sexualized violence, is shared, and that many people across our community are affected by it,” says Melissa MacKay, sexualized violence advisor (SVA) with HRES.
The process begins when an individual who has experienced sexualized violence (or witnessed it) makes a disclosure or a report to HRES. There are many potential points of contact at the university for people who have experienced sexualized violence, including Dal Security and other institutional partners, but all paths lead to HRES.
The policy applies in a variety of cases, including alleged incidents that occur on or off campus during university-linked programs, through the use of university-owned property or equipment, or in the case of non-university activities where conduct has a substantial connection to the university.
“People can access us confidentially for support in navigating their options and we will listen to them with compassion and respect and try to help them find the best path forward,” says MacKay.
The individual making the disclosure then has the option of submitting a report to the university, which is subsequently reviewed and addressed through one of two so-called “streams”: a non-investigative stream that centres around remedial, educational and/or restorative outcomes, or an investigative stream.
Under the latter approach, a trained investigator is appointed to undertake a full examination of an incident, including written responses and any counter-responses from the individuals involved. Once all materials have been gathered, the investigator undertakes interviews with the parties involved and any witnesses before submitting a confidential report with a finding as to whether the policy has been breached within 60 days.
Both parties in the incidents are provided with an opportunity to respond, after which time both the investigative report and the responses are submitted to the vice-provost student affairs or the assistant vice-president human resources to administer outcomes and any disciplinary measures. The former handles cases where a student is deemed to have breached the policy, while the latter is responsible for cases centred on employees.
In the event that a report is submitted to the university and local police simultaneously, the university may pause processing until any criminal processes are complete.
Creating a cultural shift
Dr. Harman says the university will be spending the next few months reaching out to departments and units across the university as part of its effort to raise awareness about the new policy ahead of the next academic year.
Everyone from coaches to professors and other front-line staff across the university will have a potential part to play, she says.
“The first contact for a person to reveal or disclose could be anywhere on campus,” says Dr. Harman, “so what we want to do is educate everybody on campus about this, encourage them to listen, and help that person access the resources they need through HRES.”
More communications regarding the policy will be rolled out to the Dal community in the coming weeks. For further information on the policy, contact Human Rights & Equity Services.
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