Concordia students push for changes to university's sexual violence policy

Some Concordia students are protesting outside the Sir George Williams campus Friday morning, calling on the university to make swifter changes to its sexual violence policy.

Students will be protesting outside the downtown campus Friday morning

Gaby Novoa, left, and Margot Berner are Concordia student protesters pushing for the university to take swifter action in addressing its sexual violence policy. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Some Concordia students are protesting outside the Sir George Williams campus Friday morning, calling on the university to make swifter changes to its sexual violence policy, which includes sexual discrimination, intimidation, harassment and assault.

This is the latest in the line of developments at Concordia surrounding sexual misconduct allegations.

Friday morning, in a tense interview on CBC's Daybreak, a student representative spoke in a joint interview with a university spokeswoman about how Concordia is handling the contentious issue on campus.

Concordia is currently working on addressing its policies through a standing committee on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, which includes student representatives. 

Some students, however, are not satisfied with the process, saying in particular that they want the university's policy to be stand-alone and easy for survivors to read.

Margot Berner, a Concordia student in English literature, told CBC's Daybreak that students involved in these ongoing conversations feel "routinely dismissed and ignored."

"We have been told that they have a lot of sympathy for us, but that hasn't been followed by any action," she said. "Concordia has been inactive in dealing with these allegations."

Berner said that, when students meet with the administration to discuss sexual violence, administration members roll their eyes and play with their phones, "really behaving like petulant teenagers in the face of people desperately asking for help with trauma."

Listen to the full interview exchange on Daybreak:

Protesters want Concordia to set hard and fast deadlines for how complaints are put through the process, increase transparency and lobby the provincial government to re-evaluate privacy laws that keep institutions from disclosing details about the results of internal investigations into allegations.

Concordia set up its university-wide task force to prevent sexual violence and misconduct on campus in spring 2018, not long after misconduct allegations rocked the creative writing department.

Last month, an independent "climate review" commissioned by Concordia found a climate of mistrust, favouritism and sexual misconduct in the Concordia English department.

'We welcome protest, we welcome input'

Fiona Downey, a spokesperson for Concordia, told CBC's Daybreak Friday morning that the university's standing committee is working hard to address issues raised by the task force and members of the community.

"We welcome protest, we welcome input — that's what the past year has been about. We don't want to impose things, we want to consult. We want to make sure that students and staff and faculty and all of the Concordia community gets its say."

She said that she understands students' complaints that the process is a slow one, but says it's important that any changes to the policy are done right.

"We are bound by a number of regulations, so if we were to go speedily and then we hit snags and they don't hold up in the court of law, that's not to anyone's advantage," said Downey.

She told Daybreak that she is personally invested in this ongoing conversation and its outcome.

"I'm the parent of a student as much as I'm an employee at Concordia. So when I say I take this to heart, I mean that on a personal level, as well as a professional level."

With files from CBC Montreal Daybreak