BU cut sexual violence education co-ordinator hours

·4 min read

Brandon University reduced the hours of its sole co-ordinator dedicated to sexual violence education and prevention on campus by 75 per cent amid COVID-19 budget constraints at the start of 2021.

The position — which is equal parts advocate and educator — was created five years ago to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, help them navigate reporting options, and implement a new policy on investigating cases, among other duties.

Both the co-ordinator and sexualized violence policy were established in response to widespread criticism when it was revealed BU had forced a student who reported a sexual assault in a residence to sign a contract promising to keep quiet about her case or risk expulsion.

Therapist Carla Navid was immediately appointed to oversee the office full-time in May 2016.

On Jan. 1, her role was reduced to a 0.25 FTE contract, sources told the Free Press.

A group of concerned instructors in BU’s gender and women’s studies program wrote earlier this year to the president and vice-president academic, who administers the sexualized violence policy, to raise alarm bells about the position reduction.

“The impact of a cut like this will make our campuses not only less safe, but also potentially complicit in enabling sexualized and gender-based violence,” they said in an April 12 memo.

The instructors, who called for the reinstatement of the full-time role, noted the decision was made without consultation and at a time when sexual violence has “increased and intensified” amid the pandemic.

Navid declined to comment on the situation, citing a non-disclosure agreement she has signed at BU that prevents her from talking about her job.

In recent months, BU’s resources for survivors of sexual violence were overlooked when senior employees undertook an investigation into student athlete complaints of sexual misconduct against the head coach of women’s soccer.

Emails show the first of several athletes with concerns came forward Nov. 17, 2020, but was only introduced to Navid on May 5 — one day after administration presented her and another BU teammate with findings on the harassment investigation, and a parent complained about the results.

The review found coach Jesse Roziere had acted inappropriately with students and his behaviour would be monitored.

Earlier this week, BU announced the Free Press had brought to light new information about the case and as a result, put the 29-year-old coach on leave. The school said it has engaged an external entity to conduct a new investigation.

The school has stood by its initial investigation, saying survivors were supported in the process and presented with appropriate pathways on how-to move forward — but the complainants dispute that.

Per BU policy, employees who receive disclosures of sexual violence must contact Navid “as soon as possible” to discuss a co-ordinated response.

“BU is in a long line of Canadian campuses that are falling behind in implementing their own policies and protocols, due to reasons I cannot say I clearly understand but most definitely include a lack of a survivor-centred approach,” said Lisa Mizan, a 2019 BU graduate, who served on both her alma mater’s students’ union and inaugural sexual assault advisory group.

The advisory group, which has been inactive for more than a year, was created alongside Navid’s position after the 2016 scandal.

Mizan said in an email it appears the pressure and stakes for BU have dropped because years have passed since the school made headlines for how it was mishandling sexualized violence when she was a student.

University communications director Grant Hamilton said via email Thursday BU will not be commenting “on anything that could prejudice the (new) investigation.”

The school said in a statement earlier this week it takes all allegations of inappropriate behaviour of any type “extremely seriously” and is committed to providing a campus free from violence.

“How committed can you be, when at the same time these folks are coming forward with a complaint that is very serious around sexual misconduct, you cut the sexual violence position by 75 per cent and shove the work onto the plate of the (diversity and human rights) officer?” said Corinne Mason, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies.

Mason said a real, drastic cultural shift is required at BU so allegations of sexualized violence are taken seriously and investigated properly, in turn ensuring both survivors and respondents are given procedural fairness.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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