Brock University president Jack Lightstone has announced that the school will be creating a task force to review all of its policies dealing with sexual harassment, sexual violence and unprofessional behaviour.

The university, which is in St.Catharines, Ont., will also hire a new sexual violence response co-ordinator who will work with the school's human rights and equity officer and "provide a central point of contact for all complaints about sexual violence and harassment."

"The task force will be comprised of students, staff, faculty and possibly members of the external community, and its work will incorporate recommendations that come from the Sexual Violence Prevention Committee," Lightstone said in a statement.

"Details of the mandate, composition and reporting timelines for the new task force will be completed and communicated before the end of April."

Enhanced trauma counselling

The university will also "immediately review and enhance trauma counselling services as needed for all those who are victims of sexual harassment or assault," the statement said.

The announcement comes at the end of a week in which students and faculty urged the administration to make changes to the way it handles sexual harassment complaints in the wake of a CBC News investigation that revealed that Brock had warned a former student to keep quiet about an internal investigation that determined one of her professors tried to force himself on her sexually.

Brock University

Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., announced Friday that it would review its sexual harassment and assualt policies and appoint a new co-ordniator to oversee responses to sexual violence complaints. (CBC)

The professor,  David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, continued to teach history at the university up until two weeks ago. Following the CBC News investigation, the university said that a professor is no longer "assigned to a class and is not on campus."

CBC News requested an interview with Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, but he did not return our emails. He told the university's investigator that he was too drunk to remember the October 2014 incident.

Staff and faculty call for changes

The student who initially came forward said Friday that the hiring of a sexual violence response co-ordinator is "a positive step for Brock."
 

'A dedicated person, familiar with issues of sexual violence would have been a huge asset to both the university and myself.' - Former Brock student who filed sexual harassment complaint

"If the mess of my own reporting process proved anything, it was that a dedicated person, familiar with issues of sexual violence would have been a huge asset to both the university and myself," she said in an email.

Early this week, 74 members of faculty and staff sent an open letter to Lightstone calling for a number of changes to the way the school handles sexual harassment and assault, including making a "significant commitment of resources to a fully functional human rights office [and] a considered, clear, and responsible survivor-centred process" for handling complaints.

One of the organizers of the letter, Margot Francis, who chairs the education working group of the university's Sexual Violence Prevention Committee, said Friday's announcement falls short of making the human rights office fully autonomous but that she welcomes the appointment of the co-ordinator.

Jack Lightstone

The announcement came in the wake of a CBC investigation into the handling of one former student's complaint and after students and faculty urged university president Jack Lightstone, above, to change the way the school treats incidents of sexual violence and harassment. (CBC)

"The university has just completed another round of cutbacks, which has resulted in layoffs and outsourcing of mental health services on campus. I hope that this announcement might be some indication of a reversal in that trend," she said in an emailed statement.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 35, which represents more than 200 administrative support staff at the university, also issued an open letter to the president this week saying the school's existing Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy is "ineffective."

"The university administration must step back from their current line of defence and join with others in the Brock community who are taking a leadership role in moving forward with a survivor-centred approach to support individuals when they disclose these types of situations," the letter said.

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye

The student who came forward to CBC News said she was told by the university to keep quiet about an internal investigation that determined that her history professor, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, above, tried to force himself on her sexually. (Brock University website)

The open letters from the professors and OSSTF followed demonstrations on Tuesday by more than 60 students demanding actions be taken to create a campus culture that makes survivors feel safe to come forward and confident that their voices are heard.

The students demanded that the accused professor resign, the administrator who handled the complaint resign and that the university hire a dedicated sexual assault administrator.

Lightstone came to the demonstration and accepted a signed statement from students.

For confidential tips on this story, please contact Timothy Sawa at timothy.sawa@cbc.ca or 647-382-7789, or Lori Ward at lori.ward@cbc.ca or via CBC Secure

With files from Diana Swain