Tag Archives: Student Life

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]

Columbia PhD Student Alberto Leguina, pictured above, was fired because, he claims, he rejected the advances of his supervisor. Leguina, 25, came to Columbia from Chile in the spring to work under Dr. Qais Al-Awqati, a professor of medicine, nephrology and hypertension at Columbia’s Medical Center, but by the summer was forced out of the university and has now filed a lawsuit against Columbia.

Leguina says he received a message on Grindr from someone claiming to be Al-Awqati, which he initially assumed was a prank. When Leguina ignored the message, he received subsequent messages, this time more threatening. After Leguina rebuffed the messages, Al-Awqati stormed out from the next room and yelled at Leguina, “You’re out!”

Leguina sought the help of the human resources department, where he was then told to “deal with this matter as a big man.” Leguina was also threatened to be sent back to Chile if he hired a lawyer or sought help from the authorities in his native country.

It was not until a few months later when Leguina was in fact fired. After he spoke with the HR department, Al-Aqwati apologized for his advances and gifted him a new MacBook. Leguina claims his workplace conditions severely changed at this time. His supervisors began to shun him and when he again sought help from HR, was told he was simply overwhelmed by the big city. Leguina then in June received an email from his supervisors in Chile stating that due to poor feedback from Al-Aqwati, he would need to leave his position at Columbia.

Leguina’s story is exemplary of the power dynamics that can easily be taken advantage in a place such as a prestigious university, one that in this case was particularly exploited because of his status as a foreigner. In a graduate studies environment where students work very closely with professors and need the help of supervisors in order to succeed, as shown by Leguina’s story, students need a system in place to seek help should their supervisor’s abuse their power. Because Leguina is male, he was also expected to deal with sexual harassment through silence rather than speaking out and seeking help. According to Queerty, Leguina is now interested in pursuing workplace activism:

“You cannot let these [things] happen anymore. I know I’m not the first person, but I hope I can be the last.”

Ph.D. student alleges he was sexually harassed, unfairly fired [Columbia Spectator]

Grad Student Says He Was Fired By Pervy Prof Who Hit On Him On Grindr [Queerty]

Hollaback! has already spent years fighting street harassment and is now taking a stance against campus harassment. According to the initiative’s website, “62% of women and 61% of men report being sexually harassed on college campuses,” and within the US “51% of male students admit to sexually harassing their female counterparts.” Recently there have been many high-profile incidents of sexual assault or harassment on college campuses, including otherwise well-regarded universities  Yale and Boston University.

Like street harassment, harassment on college campuses is often portrayed as “normal” and not taken seriously, though it in fact contributes to a hostile environment for specific groups that are frequently the targets of harassment. As the video above explains, the Hollaback! Against Campus Harassment campaign hopes to create a space for students to share their stories and learn that they are not alone. The initiative also hopes to provide educational resources on campus harassment create an online community where students can receive support. For more information, check out their website where you can also donate to the cause.

After a number of recent incidents of sexual abuse on its campus, BU Today reports that Boston University will take a step forward to fight sexual assault by instituting an on-campus crisis center this fall. BU President Robert A. Brown announced that the center will be “dedicated to sexual assault prevention and support for survivors of sexual assault and other forms of physical abuse, such as hazing.” Details of the center are still to be determined but Brown says staff will include full-time clinicians trained in crisis and sexual assault counseling as well as non-clinical prevention specialists.

The Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism (CGSA) has been advocating for a crisis center in light of the on-campus rape culture and it is heartening to see that the administration has responded to their requests. The form the center will take is of course still undecided, but Ariana Katz of the CGSA is hopeful:

“So many people are affected by interpersonal violence in different ways. I hope the new center cares for every type of person who walks into it.”

By providing both support to students and taking preventative measures to fight sexual assault BU will hopefully make its campus a safer space for all members of its community. If they are successful perhaps other campuses will take similar measures, as I doubt the rape culture and recent events at BU are unique; they have just been highly visible.

New Crisis Center Planned for Fall [BU Today]

Yes, there is actually an app for that. The recently launched Circle of 6 app is designed to combat sexual violence before it happens. The app allows users to choose a set of six friends to whom they can send a message quickly in time of help, and also includes a GPS finder and pre-programmed hotlines. The app is targeted to U.S. college students, a crucial group considering the prevalent rape culture on some college campuses. But anyone can use the app, and though the built in hotlines are for U.S. 1-800 lines, the user can choose a third international line. The Feminist Wire reports that eight thousand people have downloaded the app, which won the White House’s “Apps Against Abuse” Technology Challenge. Circle of 6 co-creator and Executive Director and Founder of Internet Sexuality Information Services, Inc. (ISIS) Deb Levine describes the app a safe way to access immediate support:

“Talking about sexual violence can be very difficult. As a health educator, I’ve seen that it’s often easier for people to reach out for help from behind a screen. Circle of 6 offers a free way to stay safe and support your campus community, with the ease of a few clicks on a smart phone.”

Many college students do not leave their house (or dorm) without their smartphone; Circle of 6 uses a tool they already possess to combat sexual violence. The many who don’t have access to this kind of technology are still left behind, however. But with the growing prevalence of smartphones among college students, using language already known to them is a very smart way of preventing sexual violence.

Circle Of 6 App: Stopping Sexual Violence Before It Happens [The Feminist Wire]

Boston University has been struggling to tackle many recent cases of sexual misconduct on its campus, including rape allegations. In a positive move to address these issues, the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism at Boston University has tried to start a rape crisis center (if anyone has updates on its current status, please comment or email!).

With this environment in mind, the BU publication The Daily Free Press chose to make an April Fool’s joke at the expense of those students who have faced sexual assault. According to Jezebel, the lead story of the publication’s annual April Fool’s joke issue was “BROken egos: BU fraternity suspended for assaulting female student.” The article is available on Google Docs if you choose to read it.

A BU student wrote to Jezebel deriding the article as an unfortunate representation of BU and its student body:

“Considering the fact that BU’s student body has endured scandal after scandal after scandal, it was in completely poor taste. Not only is it bad PR for the University: it’s a slap in the face for everyone who’s been victimized this year. It was a poor editorial decision. The sad part is that BU is not a school that condones assault. This past weekend, men and women on our campus came back together for Take Back the Night, which was hugely inspiring and successful. The ladies and gentlemen I’ve met at Boston University are in general an awesomely respectful bunch.”

The Daily Free Press has taken the right path and issued an apology, with other statements of regret on their Twitter. The Press is not the first nor will it be the last media outlet to make a joke of sexual assault. It’s been done on TV shows, and a recent article from a McGill publication also featured a disturbing joke concerning Chris Brown’s physical assault on his then-girlfriend Rihanna. Unlike those examples, The Daily Free Press has apologized for its harmful language and it seems its editors have learned from their mistake. Hopefully in the future they will choose to help BU students fight against sexual assault, rather than maintain a campus environment conducive to sexual violence by making light of it.

Here’s the ‘Funny’ Sexual Assault Parody Boston University’s Student Paper Doesn’t Want You to See [Updated] [Jezebel]

The Global Press Institue reports that the University of Buea in Cameroon has decided to enforce a stricter dress code in order to prevent sexual harassment on campus. Rather than teach students how to not rape, they are instead asking female students to not get raped by wearing a knee length skirt.

University of Buea’s guidance counsellor Theresia Ebot explains the link between one’s dress and one’s susceptibility to sexual harassment:

“When you dress scantily, you call for attention from the opposite sex,” Ebot says. “This attention is tilted towards sex, which is a great cause of rape and sexual harassment these days.”

According to the article, while some students support the dress code, some female students feel the enforcement of the dress code has left them feeling embarrassed and stripped of their rights. A few say they have been asked to leave campus due to attire police perceive as indecent, as though they were attending a high school, not a university.

Vida Mosima, 23, a student studying English at the University of Buea, says she was also embarrassed when campus police denied her entrance to the campus on her first day of class because of her clothing. She says she was wearing a strapless top and a short skirt that was above her knee, which they said was too sexy.

“I have never been so embarrassed and shocked in my whole life,” she says. “I did not expect to be driven out of the university campus on grounds that I was not well-dressed. That was stupid.”

As adults, all students should be expected to treat one another in a mature and respectful manner regardless of appearance. The administrators such as Ebot instead perpetuate a sadly very common misconception that anyone can invite sexual harassment or rape through dress. As the article mentions, this attitude often leaves survivors afraid to come forward with charges for fear they will be blamed.

Although there have been reports of rape on campus, none has been formally linked to indecent dressing. Still, authorities say victims of rape who are indecently dressed may be less likely to report the incident for fear of being blamed.

But Valentine Nji, 39, a legal practitioner based in Buea, says clothing has nothing to do with rape or sexual harassment.

“The concept of lecturers sleeping with students and rape will exist irrespective of how students dress,” he says. “After all, there are registered cases of young babies who are raped, and this was not as a result of indecent dressing of these babies.”

The victim-blaming at play in asking females to alter their dress in order to avoid rape is not particular to any one culture or country, but a very broad myth concerning sexual assault. The University’s administrators present a similar attitude to that of the Toronto police officer who inspired the SlutWalk movement. Because this myth is so pervasive it is survivors and victims who are often given the burden of preventing further rape, rather than the perpetrators and culture which produces them. Asking women to “cover up” is much easier than instituting education on the causes of sexual assault, but does little to actually address the real problem.

Dress Code Aims to Prevent Sexual Violence at Cameroon University [Global Press Institute]

University Institutes Dress Code to Keep Students From Getting Raped [Jezebel]

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