Bishop's University promises change after reports of sexual violence on campus

Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que., has been at the centre of a storm over sexual violence after someone anonymously plastered the words “He raped me. I reported. He’s still in my class. BU take action,” on a bridge near campus last week.

Students say institution hasn't been taking their concerns seriously

Someone wrote an anonymous message on a bridge near the campus of Bishop's University, saying they were raped by a fellow student and that the school did nothing. (Marie-Hélène Rousseau/Radio-Canada)

Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Que., is facing criticism over sexual violence on its campus after someone anonymously plastered the words "He raped me. I reported. He's still in my class. BU take action," on a bridge near the school last week.

The message prompted the university to hold an emergency town hall on Tuesday to hear students' concerns. During the meeting, the school's dean of students, Stine Linden-Andersen, apologized for the culture of rape on campus.

In an interview with Quebec AM host Peter Tardif on Wednesday, she said Bishop's was like other universities in Canada in that respect.

"I think it's important to acknowledge that, that's a culture on every campus in the country. And that it has been for a long time and it has not been acknowledged for a long time," she said.

Linden-Andersen also said it was disheartening to hear that people didn't feel safe, and pledged to do more to solve the issue.

"I think that it's crucially important, when students are vulnerable like this and come forward and ask for change, that we get that started right away," she said.

While students said they came out of the two-hour meeting feeling cautiously optimistic, they also criticized the school for waiting until this incident to make the issue a priority.

"None of this would've happened if it weren't for that survivor," said third-year student Meaghan Connelly, who is also co-chair of the university's sexual culture committee. 

"I feel like our committee would be in the same spot we were three weeks ago, with weekly meetings with the administration and nothing being done."

Meaghan Connelly, a third-year student at Bishop's University and the co-chair of the school's sexual culture committee, said sexual violence has been prevalent on campus for a long time. (Submitted by Meaghan Connelly)

Fourth-year student Jeremy Audet echoed the sentiment, saying that the university should be more proactive in protecting the students.

"In my four years here, there's always been sexual violence at Bishop's," he said. "It's a scandal, because the university has not been doing enough and has been lacking the foresight to prevent continuous sexual violence against its student body."

Mechanisms in place to review complaints

Linden-Andersen acknowledged that sexual violence was prevalent on campus, but declined to give the precise number of complaints the school had received.

"I'd rather not go on the media with numbers like that at the moment," she told Quebec AM. But she said the university has formal mechanisms in place to support the victims.

"This is something we take extremely seriously," she said. "We investigate every claim we receive and we stand with the survivors through the process."

She said the university provides special accommodations for survivors who need it, and that a clinical social worker is available to support, guide and accompany them.

Students have to undergo mandatory training on consent in their first week on campus, and the school also offers two additional training programs to sensitize staff and students about the issue.

Changes coming to campus, dean promises

Bishop's University has been reviewing its policy on sexual violence, and will be holding another town hall on the issue next week, according to its dean of students Stine Linden-Andersen. (Yannick Cournoyer/Radio-Canada)

Linden-Andersen said the town hall was a crucial event, and that Bishop's couldn't move forward without first hearing students' concerns.

She also said she felt that everyone in attendance was determined to work together and find solutions.

"I had volunteers come up and say, 'How do we sign up for the Walk Safe program?'' she said. "I saw last night an engagement and sort of a step toward finding solutions that I think is really important."

The dean said her next priority is to read policies from other institutions in Quebec to find out how the school can improve its own.

The university has been reviewing its policy on sexual violence, and will hold another town hall with students in the coming weeks.

With files from Quebec AM and Holly Mueller