News / Vancouver

Sexual assault panellists ‘disappointed’ as UBC nears end of input phase

University extended consultations until end of month, but some members of an expert panel concerned about "confidence" in process.

Sarah Hunt teaches First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Geography at the University of B.C. and sat on the school’s sexual assault panel.

Amanda Laliberte / amandalaliberte.com

Sarah Hunt teaches First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Geography at the University of B.C. and sat on the school’s sexual assault panel.

For Lucia Lorenzi, an invitation to sit on UBC’s sexual assault panel seemed like a chance to make an impact — and bring her voice to the table as a survivor of sexual violence on campus.

“I’d been tweeting for a while that we need to have people who are out as survivors and people critical of the university at the table,” the recent PhD graduate told Metro in a phone interview. “So I accepted right away.

“I wanted to be a voice — not for all survivors, because everyone has different experiences — but to ensure people were around the table who had direct contact with the system, and to hopefully influence policy.”

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After being previously sexually assaulted at several institutions, she never imagined she’d have to face it again when she arrived at UBC.

“Knowing how a lot of universities and high schools really fail survivors added to my reluctance to engage with the UBC system,” the 29-year-old recalled. “It made me want to have a world where I could have come forward to file a report.”

The panel to which the university’s Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, Sara-Jane Finlay, invited her spent months gathering community feedback, discussing and comparing best practices, and hearing from survivors directly.

So several panel members were surprised when UBC released a draft policy on sexual assault in June — developed by a committee launched at the same time as their panel — before they’d had a chance to table their own report full of recommendations.

“We had hoped that the policy would come out after our report, but we were not in control of the timing,” said Sarah Hunt, another panel member and faculty member. “It was assumed by everybody that the policy would have been informed by our report, but then there was a push to get the policy out for review. Unfortunately that didn't happen.”

The timing of the draft policy’s release — which Finlay said was partly because the then UBC president was set to end her term — was “troublesome” for Lorenzi, and the draft “insufficient.”

“We had really hoped we could help the draft policy … to be as good as possible to provide confidence in what UBC is doing,” she said. “I feel that the release of that policy didn’t really contribute to that confidence.

“I don’t understand why the university didn’t take more time, get our report into (the committee’s) hands so they could submit a document they really felt represented everyone’s input into the process.”

Lucia Lorenzi, a recent PhD graduate, was invited to sit on the UBC Sexual Assault Panel which presented its recommendations in June.

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Lucia Lorenzi, a recent PhD graduate, was invited to sit on the UBC Sexual Assault Panel which presented its recommendations in June.

According to Finlay, the intention remains to have the final policy — to be tabled next February in time for the B.C. government’s legislated deadline for post-secondary institutions — influenced by the panel.

“Recommendations from the panel would then inform the consultation process for the policy,” she told Metro. Consultation’s been extended to the end of this month, including a public meeting at the Alma Mater Society next week. “All the information will come together and go to the policy committee, who’ll use all the feedback to redraft the policy. It’s going to be significantly different than the draft that went out in June.”

Hunt, 39, is a member of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation and teaches First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Geography, and has extensively researched links between gendered and sexual violence and the history of colonialism against Indigenous people.

While that’s informed her academic pursuits, she told Metro she’s been “doing work” around violence since her teens.

“My own cousin took her life in my second year of university,” she revealed. “And since then I've done work in small communities all over the place on violence, and in many ways the university is like a small community.

“There's a lot of ways that silences are maintained, that people are keeping the illusion that violence happens 'out there.' It doesn't happen here. When in fact, we know that not to be true.”

Asked for her hopes for her university community, Lorenzi reflected that despite the crisis on campuses across Canada, “What’s heartening now is that survivors are able to connect,” she said, “and there are also opportunities for administrators, faculty, staff and politicians to connect.

“This is a joint effort. It’s not something that just one survivor, politicians, student or faculty member has to take up by themselves.”

The next public UBC Sexual Assault Policy information sessions in Vancouver will be held 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the First Nations  Longhouse (1985 West Mall), and 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13 at AMS Student Nest's Great Hall (6133 University Blvd.). For more information visit ubc.ca.

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