“It’s not something that happens overnight”

Campus leaders react to one-year report on UVic’s new sexualized violence policy

The Michael Williams Building, where UVic’s Board of Governors approved an EQHR report recapping one year of their sexualized violence policy. Photo by Belle White, Photo Editor

It’s been a year since UVic’s Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Policy was officially adopted: an anniversary which the office of Equity and Human Rights (EQHR) marked by releasing their first annual report on the policy.

The report was a first glimpse into the policy’s implementation so far for most members of the UVic community — members  like Annalee Lepp, chair of the university working group that played a crucial part in the creation of the policy.

“I think that it was really, really important in this first year to focus on faculty and staff on campus, so that they knew about the policy, they knew how to receive a disclosure, [and] what to do in that moment, because that was an area of concern,” said Lepp, Associate Professor of Gender Studies.

Education the focus

Education has been a primary focus for EQHR over the last year, with three brochures developed to inform campus faculty and staff on an overview of the policy, consent and respect, and how to receive a disclosure.

“So far it’s clear that the people working in EQHR are passionate about their roles and are doing a great job in continuing to ramp up and improve the education and awareness around sexualized violence on campus among other issues,” said Pierre-Paul Angelblazer, UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations.

“I don’t think in a single year you can educate 25 000 people necessarily, and so that educational work will always be ongoing.”

On the front lines of implementation is Leah Shumka, UVic’s Sexualized Violence Education and Prevention Coordinator — a position created by the policy. Over the last year, the EQHR report states that Shumka received 28 formal disclosures and 4 formal reports.

Additionally, Shumka created a workshop to educate people on an overview of the policy’s core principles and expectations, which the report said she presented 39 times to about 1 100 attendees. Shumka also anticipates that student-focused workshops, both online and with peer facilitators, will finish development in time for fall orientation.

“I don’t think in a single year you can educate 25 000 people necessarily, and so that educational work will always be ongoing — you get new employees, you get new faculty, you get new students coming into the university,” said Lepp. “I do know that EQHR is very committed to undertaking that ongoing work.”

Pierre-Paul Angelblazer, Director of Outreach and University Relations. Photo by UVSS

Angelblazer commended the work he’d seen EQHR do through his involvement in UVic’s internal committee on Equity, Diversity, Human Rights and Inclusion, but commented that it is difficult for the students’ union to evaluate all of the policy’s progress over the last year.

“Though the emotional labour of students was crucial in the creation of a policy that would work better for them, the policy only exists within the jurisdiction of UVic and under the limitations of the law,” Angelblazer said.

Leaders must emerge

While Lepp commended the collaborations formed across disciplines on campus in support of the policy, she expressed the need for leaders in each department to champion the work being done.

“EQHR can’t do this alone, so you have to find people in every unit on campus that are directly or indirectly tied to this particular policy that are championing the policy in that unit,” Lepp said.

Lepp noted that another challenge faced by EQHR was consistency in data collection and reporting in order to establish a comprehensive baseline for the future.

Over the summer, the policy will be reviewed by EQHR and procedures may be adapted based on experiences with the implementation process. Lepp anticipates the next few months will bring increased efforts to engage students with the policy.

Annalee Lepp, Acting Chair of Linguistics and Associate Professor in Gender Studies. Photo by UVic

“The first year was really focused on getting departments and units on campus familiar with the policy, the definitions, and so forth, and now I think the key priority is to really work on the student education prevention piece,” said Lepp. “Launching a really robust, student-focused prevention education initiative is important to ensure that everybody on campus is aware of the policy and knows what the processes are in order to file a disclosure or a formal report.”

“Education is extremely important in order for students to be accessing the proper services and supports,” Angelblazer concurred.

The Martlet also approached UVic’s Anti-Violence Project for a comment on the EQHR report, however they could not be reached prior to publication.

“I think the key priority is to really work on the student education prevention piece.”

Lepp received a President’s Extraordinary Service Award for her contributions as chair of the working group on the policy in June, and considers the creation of the policy her most rewarding experience with initiatives on campus.

Investment key

However, as the policy is still new, Lepp pointed out that this report will serve as a crucial baseline for future statistics and progress. Before the next report in September 2019, there is ongoing work to be done.

“Leah Shumka can only do so much in a particular day, both as the intake person and as the education person, so I think that the policy or EQHR as the home of the policy probably could use some more resources to move this forward,” said Lepp. “It’s not something that happens overnight.”

With files from Cormac O’Brien

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