Commentary: UNB takes sexual assault seriously

By Dr. Rice Fuller
Senior Director, Health and Wellness
University of New Brunswick, Fredericton


It has recently been suggested in the media (both on and off-campus) that UNB is not working hard enough to address the issue of sexual assault on campus because we have not yet produced a finalized, stand-alone sexual assault policy. We take the issue of sexual assault very seriously at UNB, and felt the need to address some of the misconceptions around the policy issue.

First, although we are currently well into the process of developing UNB’s stand-alone sexual assault policy, this is only one part of a thorough response to the problem of sexual assaults on campus. In our desire to serve the UNB community to the best of our ability, we’ve looked to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault report “Not Alone” from 2014. Why the White House Report? Because no similar task force has been undertaken in Canada. The report, which is extensive, outlines three broad areas that any comprehensive approach to addressing sexual assault on campuses should include – identification of the problem (campus climate surveys), prevention of sexual assault (engaging men) and effective responses when a student is sexually assaulted.
 
To judge UNB’s current efforts solely based on whether or not we have a stand-alone sexual assault policy is misguided and an over-simplification of a complex issue. As well, the lack of a stand-alone policy should in no way lead one to believe UNB has no policy that addresses issues of sexual assault. This is false. Acts of sexual violence on campus are currently covered under both the UNB Student Disciplinary Code and the UNB policy on Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Harassment.
 
Currently, our draft version of a stand-alone sexual assault policy is the result of recommendations from sources like the Ontario Women’s Directorate, the White House Task Force, and others. We’ve reviewed sexual assault policies from colleges and universities in the U.S. and from the few post-secondary institutions in Canada that have them.  From this, it’s clear that our policy should cover all UNB students, staff, faculty and campus visitors on both campuses.
 
Our next step is to sit down with representatives from the students’ union in Fredericton and the students’ representative council in Saint John to develop a draft we are all comfortable and satisfied with. After that, the draft will be widely circulated to the UNB community, external stakeholders and experts for consultation and feedback, which will be incorporated into the draft to produce a final policy. The policy must then be legally reviewed and approved by university management and the Board of Governors.
 
Let me tell you what we are doing in the other two areas outlined by the White House Task Force. In a few weeks, researchers from the UNB psychology faculty working with student services will launch a comprehensive survey of student experiences with sexual assault on campus and the campus climate related to sexual assault. The results will help inform our stand-alone policy as well as evaluate UNB’s efforts to prevent, respond to and combat campus sexual assault.  This survey will be one of the most comprehensive of its kind undertaken at a Canadian university.
 
Over the past several weeks, staff from student services, campus security and varsity athletics have provided training to more than 600 students using a program called “Bringing in the Bystander.” The training was provided to all proctors and dons, all residence house committee members, all redshirt orientation leaders and all varsity athletes.  This training was not optional – it was mandatory.
 
“Bringing in the Bystander” is the program specifically identified in the White House Task Force report as the most promising in terms of engaging both men and women in an effort to change the campus culture regarding sexual violence and teaching both men and women to be active, pro-social bystanders when it comes to witnessing or hearing about acts of sexual violence. Those of us who have presented the training feel like we have just gotten started. We are prepared to deliver many more training sessions, and we encourage groups to invite us to come to them.
 
Make no mistake, campus sexual assault is a long-standing and complex issue. It should be clear to everyone that this is not a race to see who can produce a policy first – it needs to be done right. I am confident in the strength of our three-pronged approach. By identifying the problem as it exists at UNB through an extensive survey and engaging men and women in preventative action, we enhance our existing student policies, administrative support and counselling services. Our students can expect a stand-alone policy that is informed by this process and that fits into a clear, comprehensive program of prevention and response. 
 
I’d like to make one final point.  It was recently suggested in the media that “there are several people in the university community that are not supporting talk about sexual violence on campus.” From the start of this process I have felt the full support of everyone on both campuses, including the President and his executive team, administration at all levels, as well as faculty, staff and students from both Fredericton and Saint John.  Never once have I run into barriers from people in the UNB community who did not want to help put an end to sexual violence on campus.  Students should know that UNB takes this issue very seriously and uninformed, false, and incendiary comments like the above do nothing but hinder the efforts and undermine the good work happening on our campuses. 
 
Dr. Rice Fuller
Senior Director, Health and Wellness
University of New Brunswick, Fredericton

Media contact: Sonya Gilks, Director, Communications Office

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