Creating a culture of consent on campus

Following decades of student-led advocacy, the federal Liberals are showing leadership with the establishment of a national framework to outline how colleges and universities address gender-based violence prevention and provide support for survivors of sexual assault.

This month, an advisory committee gave input on the national framework, which will standardize policies surrounding service offerings, prevention efforts, training, response, and reporting processes in incidents of sexual assault. The 2018 federal budget included $5.5 million for the initiative over five years.

The advisory committee is chaired by the Department for Women and Gender Equality and is comprised of survivor advocates, front-line service providers, student leaders, college and university administration professionals, union leaders and community organizations from across the country. Inclusion of a wide range of perspectives at the table is exactly what was needed to drive this forward.

Student-led organizations have worked tirelessly at the grassroots level over the years, pooling resources to launch national campaigns to educate campus communities, government and the public about the crisis at hand.

The Canadian Federation of Students launched the No Means No campaign 20 years ago. There are many who served for years on the front lines of this issue at a time when government didn’t yet see it as a priority.

According to Stats Canada, 41 per cent of incidents of sexual assault are reported by students — and local supports are not currently equipped to respond appropriately.

Navigating available campus supports should be seamless, but this is difficult to accomplish with the complex system of services offered within university and campus communities.

There is also overlap between the kind of supports available at post-secondary institutions and what’s offered in the wider community.

As a university student, I volunteered on the board of my local sexual assault crisis centre. The volunteers and skeleton staff of the organization at the time worked miracles with their budget to meet the community’s demand for services.

I was proud to see former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne show respect to students by sitting down with them directly in 2015 and committing to be an active partner in their advocacy to end rape culture on campuses across Ontario.

Some provinces have since passed legislation requiring, at minimum, the creation of campus sexual assault policies. A lot was learned by the first wave of attempts. Each institution is unique and so were the results of their policy development processes.

Students and front-line workers have been critical of the uneven policies. This federal framework is aimed to fill those gaps by identifying promising practices and holding universities and colleges to account in applying minimum standards.

For most advocates in this space, the work is very personal. I offer my kudos to all of those who have given their time and experience to driving this change from all angles.

Leading sexual violence prevention institutional change-makers Farrah Khan of Ryerson University and CJ Rowe of Simon Fraser University are exactly the best experts to be placed at the helm of drafting the national framework alongside a team of dedicated student activists. The federal government is considering various options to hold colleges and universities accountable to fully implement the framework in a timely manner once approved.

I’m looking forward to reviewing the “Framework to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence at Post Secondary Institutions,” and supporting implementation in any way I am able.

The student movement has come a long way in advocating for and providing supports for victims of sexual assault on campus.

If this is done right, 2019 could be a turning point for these hard-fought campaigns. We are at a pivotal moment when government priority, strategic intergenerational efforts, and collaboration across sectors could result in lasting change.

I hope that following the creation of the framework, each subsequent federal budget will commit to supporting the sustainability of this effort and that more provincial government bodies will come to the table with funding.

It will be impossible to measure the true impact of this work. At its best, this framework can serve as a catalyst to cultivate a culture of consent on campus communities across Canada.

For me, because this advocacy is personal, one life altered is enough.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 27, 2019)