LU’s impending sexual harassment policy to be ‘survivor-centred’

By Jessica Robinson, Staff Reporter

Parallel to Premier Wynne’s request for every institution across Ontario to develop a separate policy for procedures regarding sexual harassment and violence, a committee has formed to create such a policy unique to the needs of Laurentian University.

Until now, like many college and university campuses, Laurentian has addressed sexual harassment and violence more broadly, as subsections in the Student Code of Conduct and the Respectful Workplace policy. But Premier Wynne’s push to isolate these procedures from more general codes intends to highlight the importance of policy regarding sexual harassment and violence.

Erik Labrosse, Director of Student Life at Laurentian’s Sudbury campus, has been an integral part of the process.

He worked to assemble a group of dedicated students, faculty, and community experts alike over the summer, to hash out the principles and values that would be key to the Laurentian policy.

In total, the committee consisted of 21 individuals, including Labrosse, Chloe Mirfield, former director of membership services for the Students’ General Association, Jennifer Johnson, Assistant Professor at Thorneloe University, Claudette Lemire, Administrative Assistant of Student Life, and Earl Black, Manager of Accessibility Services.

Building off of inspiration drawn from other institutions’ policies, the committee members questioned the way different elements would fit into life here on campus.

“We came up with some of our own language,” Labrosse explained.

“For instance, we say that ‘survivors or students are experts in their own lives’… So, that’s a Laurentian University statement that we want to put in (the policy) that says the response, our response, is informed by the survivor. We have responsibilities, to educate and to support, but the survivor is essentially the driver, the main decision-maker in terms of how we respond to a disclosure or report.”

This “survivor-centred response” is an angle that sets the policy apart from its predecessors.

But the basis of the content is largely comparable to response procedures established across the province.

“It was good to hear from other campuses, other institutions, (at the 2015 Summit on Sexual Violence and Harassment),” Labrosse said, although he noted that the content of the summit was “sometimes difficult to hear.”

The definitions and framework of the policy outlined by the summer committee and the content of the summit as discussed by the experts “aligned very well.”

“I think that was the only part (of the Summit) that left us a little bit relieved, that we were actually going in the right direction,” Labrosse admitted.

The new policy is clearly an innovative take on responses to disclosures.

“We validate the student as the expert in his or her own life,” Labrosse notes.

The survivors will be the ones who take the lead on how faculty and professionals on campus proceed when instances of sexual harassment and violence are reported.

By putting the student in charge of the proceedings, they are ensured cooperative and personalized reactions based on individual situations, rather than formal, inflexible procedures.

The committee also insisted on the policy being just as much about prevention, about putting emphasis on consent, as on responding.

“I think this is where our policy might be a little different than other institutions,” says Labrosse. “We will spend just as much time, resources, knowledge, and expertise in preventing (sexual harassment) as we will supporting survivors.”

Equal investment into the prevention and the intervention is what will serve as “the brand” for the Laurentian policy.

The committee has been equally innovative in their methods of ensuring transparency as they put the policy together.

On top of actively involving students and faculty members when forming the committee, the committee also has “a student documenting the process, writing about it in an objective way,” Labrosse explained.

This student’s interpretation of the process will then serve as the cover letter for the official policy.

“It’s our way of making sure the process is very transparent and student-centred,” he says. “Hopefully there’s some advice for us, and for other institutions. And it’s a good documentation of student involvement.”

The hope is for this objective student observation to set a precedent for policy-creation in the future.

The province is still waiting on further information from the government as per the exact guidelines and requirements for sexual harassment and violence policies.

“Premier Wynne’s action plan touches the justice system,” explained Labrosse, and so the implications of these changes need to be clear prior to a final draft of the Laurentian policy being published.

“It’s almost like there’re two parallel processes: we’re making sure we’re listening to our community, and then we’re making sure we’re complying with what the province is asking of us. It’s almost like we’re in the middle, but we recognize the urgency of having a document like this available for our students and campus.”

“There’s also a prevention campaign, and grants (Laurentian) can apply for, for arts-based education around sexual harassment and violence,” and so Labrosse has been reaching out to artists on campus that might be interested in collaborative projects.

It’s just one more way the office of Student Life is looking to incorporate student voice into the changes being made. “There will be an invitation for student feedback, and to get involved, whether it’s through the Women’s Centre, through Pride, the clubs, the associations.”

The idea is to partner with people, to help inform the response Laurentian will have in future situations.

Labrosse is clear on wanting this to be a group effort.

“I think the more of us that are involved, the more of us that inform Laurentian’s response, the better,” he said.

Though an official date has not yet been set, the committee predicts that it will have an official draft of the Sexual Harassment and Violence Policy ready to present to the campus for feedback by the end of winter 2016.