McGill stumbles toward reconciliation over how to handle sexual misconduct allegations

McGill University's principal, Suzanne Fortier, met student leaders Wednesday to discuss the university's response to complaints of sexual misconduct. The most vocal student leaders were not formally invited but crashed the meeting.

Most vocal student leaders crash meeting with university principal after not being formally invited

McGill principal Suzanne Fortier met with student leaders Wednesday to discuss how the university deals with allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. (McGill University)

After weeks of pressure to address concerns over McGill University's response to complaints of sexual misconduct, the school's principal, Suzanne Fortier, met student leaders Wednesday morning.

Connor Spencer, vice-president of external affairs of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU), called the meeting "a first step," but she said it was also a bit of a misstep on the part of the administration.

Spencer has been among the most vocal student leaders on the issue at McGill.

She spearheaded an open letter to the university's administration and a student walkout to pressure the school to take allegations of sexual assault and misconduct more seriously.

However, she and other prominent student leaders weren't formally invited to the meeting.

"I found out about it because media contacted me last night asking to talk to me after the meeting with student leaders, to which I responded [that] I had no knowledge of such a meeting, and they must have gotten the date wrong," Spencer told CBC Wednesday.

She said the only SSMU leaders invited were its current and incoming presidents, who Spencer said have not been the leading voices in the current debate.

After hearing about the meeting, Spencer and other SSMU executive members showed up uninvited.

"It's really sad that those of us who are doing this work had to crash this meeting," Spencer said.

Some progress

Spencer said the meeting started in an atmosphere of "high tension," but some progress was eventually made.

"By giving us space to express what students were concerned about, we were able to leave on a much more neutral footing and an understanding of where each side is coming from," she said.

She said university administrators promised to meet student leaders every two weeks to discuss the issue.

Spencer said they also promised to address the issue of professor-student relationships next year at the university's senate, the body comprised of faculty, staff, students, administrators and board members which sets McGill policies.

McGill issued a statement Wednesday evening saying: "Everyone acknowledged that they are pursuing a common objective — to ensure that the campus is and remains a safe place for all members of the McGill community — and are committed to the principles of procedural fairness."

Fortier is also expected to address the issue at a senate meeting Thursday afternoon.

Spencer said she is still wary of the administration, based on how it has dealt with the issue in the past.

She'd like to see McGill's commitments made public so that the university can be held accountable.


Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.