Bishop's University sets up mandatory sexual-assault training

All 800 first-year students at Bishop's University attended a new mandatory 90-minute training session on sexual violence during orientation week - an initiative to help make students feel safer.

Student residence advisers say training could help make students feel safer

Bishop's University students moved into their dorms during orientation week. A training session on preventing sexual violence was a mandatory part of the week's activities.

There was a new twist to orientation week at Bishop's University in Lennoxville this month, with all 800 first-year students taking part in mandatory sexual-assault training.

The dean of student affairs, Jackie Bailey, said the university is taking a more "proactive" approach to dealing with sexual violence on campus. For her, it had to start with the newest members of the Bishop's community.

"It is important to start with the first years as they come in to say, 'This is the kind of culture we want on this campus,'"said Bailey.

More than a campus issue

The first round of the training program was completed on Tuesday.

The 90-minute session covered a wide range of topics from consent to bystander intervention.

While part of the goal of the program is to give students concrete tips on how to react and what to say if they feel unsafe on campus, said Bailey, the general idea of the training is to demystify perceived grey zones.

New students at Bishop's University in Lennoxville sign up for orientation week events. (CBC)

The skills taught in the training session are transferrable, she said, to other settings such as outdoor concerts or festivals. Often, witnesses are afraid to step in.

"What's common is that people are out, and they are drinking. And their judgment is impaired," Bailey said. "Because their judgment is impaired ... they are not sure what to do or how to intervene."

"We try to teach them that it doesn't have to take much: Just three seconds, and you could affect change."

Easing students' minds

Organizers of the training session set up a "safe room" for students who needed to take a break from the session's content, in many cases because they had experienced sexual violence in their pasts and felt overwhelmed.

A fourth-year student and the team co-ordinator of residence advisers, Justin Lagac, said he witnessed many students coming into the space.

He says it was an experience like no other.

"It was amazing for me to see the number of people coming to get help," said Lagac. "It was sad, so many people impacted by that."

This is Lagac's fourth year working with the residence life department at Bishop's University.

He says students generally feel safe on the campus, but publicity surrounding a series of sexual violence-related incidents on university campuses in the U.S. had made some students uneasy.

Brock Turner is the former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Here he is seen leaving the Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose, Calif. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

This training helps to put those worries at ease, he said.

"By having all the community trained in bystander intervention, we all have the ability to stop sexual violence," said Lagac. "We don't want a Brock Turner incident on campus."

"So we are trying to be proactive and make sure everyone has eyes on it so we can prevent it."

New resources to deal with sexual health

A report by the Eastern Townships public health authority released last year showed levels of sexually transmitted infections on the rise in the Townships, particularly in Lennoxville.

At the time that report was released, Bailey said she felt like the university was always playing catch-up when it came to sexual health issues, particularly in terms of education for incoming students.

The university created a full-time sexual health co-ordinator whose role will be to conduct sexual health and violence research on the campus and to draft a sexual assault policy for Bishop's.