York University Proposes Women’s Studies Courses to Prevent Sexual Assault

York University has seen a number of sexual assaults on its campus recently, including one this past week. In response to the high rate of sexual violence, the York Federation of Students (YSF) has proposed that the administration implement mandatory women’s studies or equity courses as a preventative measure.

In requiring all student’s to take a women’s studies or equity course, the YSF hopes that students will become familiar with the root causes of sexual assault, such as inequality and discrimination. They propose that students would have the option to choose from a variety of courses based on their particular interests and previous experience with women’s studies or equity material. As Eva Karpinski, a professor from York’s School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, points out, there are few disciplines where students will encounter analyses of oppressive systems that lead to sexual assault and other forms of violence. Women’s studies and similar courses often offer a rare opportunity to engage in a dialogue on systematic violence. A single course though, Karpinski says, is not enough to implement real change:

“I would really envision a much wider role for the York Federation of Students on campus to become advocates, to take leadership and provide spaces for a much wider non-violence policy that should become like our daily mantra here.”

Students have had mixed reaction to the proposal of a mandatory women’s studies course. According to York’s community newspaper, Excalibur, some students are against the notion of being forced to enroll in a course that has nothing to do with their major. Others feel that a full semester’s course load would be too much, and would prefer a lesser degree of commitment. Robyn Urback of the National Post writes that the mandatory course would simply be a waste of students’ time and money, and that energy should instead be spent on increasing security.

But York has already spent millions of dollars on increased security; according to the Toronto Sun the university spent $9.5 million on improving security and still two cases of sexual assault have been reported since the term started this month. Students’ safety should be the priority of any university, but simply increasing security does not address the root cause of sexual assault. Sexual assault is not an expression of sexual desire nor is it always simply an isolated act of violence; rather, it is an expression of power and dominance over another person that can often be linked to not only gender, but also race, sexuality, ability, class, etc. Mandating a single course in women’s studies or equity will not change York’s campus overnight, but it does indicate that its students are seeking to prevent sexual assault by addressing it at its core.

York is far from being the only university whose campus has been conducive to violence or rape culture; American Universities Columbia and Boston University have had a number a high-profile incidents of sexual harassment and violence as well. Whether or not the proposal goes through, hopefully York students will be able to implement progressive measures towards preventing further violence on its campus.

Thanks to Corey for the tip

YFS lobbies for mandatory equity or women’s studies course [Excalibur]

Robyn Urback: York students solve sex crimes with mandatory women’s studies [National Post]

Another sexual assault at York University [Toronto Sun]

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