A national student group has given UPEI a grade of D+ on how it currently deals with sexual violence on campus, but the university — along with the student union — is working to change that, officials say.

Our Turn last week released a report card grading 14 Canadian universities' sexual violence policies and an action plan for student unions to support survivors of sexual assault. UPEI scored 59 out of 100.

'Sexual violence is a persistent, systemic issue which is particularly prevalent on university campuses.' — Taya  Nabuurs

"I think that there's a lot of work to be done — it is an older policy so that makes sense as to why there are some gaps," said Caitlin Salvino, chair of Our Turn, speaking from Ottawa. 

UPEI's current Fair Treatment Policy dates back to 2007. The university is in the process of updating this policy, a spokesperson said via email, and it is awaiting approval, and should be updated soon.

The changes include a sexual assault support and response protocol which "outlines how sexual assault complaints are dealt with, including the offering of a variety of counselling and medical services, and how Student Affairs and/or Residence Life staff will assist and support victims and survivors," the university said. 

Caitlin Salvino

Caitlin Salvino, 22, is chair of Our Turn, a movement connecting 20 student unions across Canada. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Salvino said UPEI lost points in the Our Turn report card because it didn't have a definition of consent and it doesn't cover "stealthing" (the removal of a condom without consent).

Consultations begin on new stand-alone policy

The university is also working on a stand-alone policy on sexual assault, in addition to the changes to the Fair Treatment Policy.

On Wednesday, UPEI's Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Task Force, a collaboration of the student union and the university, will host consultations discussing the new policy, and recommendations to the university on sexual violence education and prevention programming. The consultations will happen from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in McMillan Hall in UPEI's student centre.

"UPEI looks forward to continuing our work with the UPEISU to prevent and put an end to sexual violence," officials said. 

The hope is to have the stand-alone policy in place by the end of the academic year.

UPEISU joins Our Turn

Separate from the task force, UPEI's student union last week initiated its own chapter of Our Turn to advocate for better policies and education. 

"I wanted to ensure that there was something long-term in place which would outlive my time at UPEI and ensure that we can build off the momentum of the work of the task force," said Taya Nabuurs, the student union's vice-president academic & external, said in a news release.

"Sexual violence is a persistent, systemic issue which is particularly prevalent on university campuses. It will require a consistent, long-term approach, and Our Turn UPEI will strive to provide that."

Ryerson University in Toronto had the highest mark of the 14 schools graded in the Our Turn report. It earned 81 per cent for having a sexual violence support office and a yearly education campaign about rape culture and consent culture, and uses those phrases in its policy, Salvino explained. 

With files from Laura Chapin