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Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities

Activism, Institutional Responses, and Strategies for Change

Edited by Elizabeth Quinlan, Andrea Quinlan, Curtis Fogel, and Gail Taylor
Subjects Social Science, Sociology, Gender Studies, Social Work, Education
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Paperback : 9781771122832, 352 pages, August 2017
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781771122856, 352 pages, August 2017


Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities


Elizabeth Quinlan

Several recent incidents of sexual violence on Canadian
campuses have garnered considerable media coverage. The stories draw particular
attention to the perniciousness of a rape culture on campus and the inadequacy
of Canadian universities’ prevention and response to sexual violence.

During orientation week at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in
the fall of 2013, senior students led several hundred first-year students in a
chant that glorified nonconsensual sex with underage girls. A videotape of the
cheer appearing on social media sparked outrage across the country. The
president of the student union resigned the following day, declaring that the
chant was the biggest mistake of his life while admitting that he, along with
many others, had recited the chant every year since coming to the university.
Shortly thereafter, the university announced the formation of a ten-member
President’s Council, chaired by a Dalhousie professor in law and ethics, to
make recommendations that would attempt to foster “cultural change that
prevents sexual violence, and inspires respectful behaviour and a safe learning
environment” (President’s Council, 2013, p. 16).

Within days of the uncovering of the Saint Mary’s chant, a
similar cheer surfaced at the University of British Columbia (UBC), followed by
a quick succession of reported sexual assaults on the UBC campus the next month.
Students reported the chant had been used for 20 years. The story found ample purchase
in the traditional media. In response, the university president struck the Task
Force on Intersectional Gender-Based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes to
develop “actionable recommendations” addressing the violence rendered visible
by the revelations of the chant (University of British Columbia, 2014).

Later that fall, a Lakehead University student who had been
sexually assaulted by a fellow student a year earlier went to the media with
her story. After several unsuccessful attempts to lodge a formal complaint and
arrange her classes to avoid the perpetrator, she was instructed to obtain
written documentation of her “learning disability” from a campus doctor as the
best way to avoid having to write her exams in the same room as the
perpetrator. She told the media that she didn’t blame the university for the
actions of her fellow student, but did hold it responsible for its injurious
response to her requests for help. Soon after, the president formed a task
force with a mandate to reduce or eliminate incidents of sexual assault and to
ensure that when reporting, survivors would have access to counselling, assistance
with medical care and academic concerns, and support in choices regarding
reporting of the crime to law authorities. In particular, the task force was
mandated to make recommendations regarding changes to the Code of Student
Behaviour and Disciplinary Procedures, and the Employee Code of Conduct.

While the task forces at SMU, UBC, and Lakehead were
developing recommendations to address sexual violence on their campuses, in
early December 2014 a female dental student alerted the administration at
Dalhousie University to the posts from a Facebook group of 13 male dental
students, which promoted the use of sexual violence against their fellow female
students. One particularly offensive post appeared on the 25th anniversary of
the Montreal Massacre. Like the 14 engineering students killed at l’École
Polytechnique de Montréal, the female dental students were pursuing careers in
a traditionally male preserve. The female dental student at Dalhousie who
alerted the administration wanted to lodge a formal complaint, but was
dissuaded from doing so in a meeting with the administrators. A week later, the
media obtained screenshots of the offending posts from an unknown source.
Public outrage ensued. An online petition pressing the university to expel the
students garnered 1000 signatures in a single afternoon. By mid-January, the
number of signatures shot up to 50,000. While the provincial government was
announcing it would monitor the situation, alumni across the country were
removing their diplomas from their office walls and professional dental
associations in various provinces were requesting the names of the Facebook
group members, a request that the university refused, arguing it would violate
the students’ privacy. In early January, the 13 group members were suspended,
only later to be offered alternative delivery formats for their courses so they
could graduate on schedule. A number of fourth-year female students wrote an
open letter to the president to convey their discomfort with the restorative
justice process they felt pressured to accept in place of a formal complaint.
The president of the university launched a task force in early January 2015.

As events at Dalhousie were continuing to solicit
considerable media attention, in February 2014 a sexual assault was reported in
Thunder Bay. The alleged perpetrators were two University of Ottawa (UofO)
hockey team members. A criminal investigation was initiated. A month later, the
female president of the university’s student union went public with an online
discussion in which five male students directed violently misogynist comments toward
her. The next day, the hockey team was suspended, and several months later the
hockey coach was fired and the university president established a 15-member
task force to provide recommendations on how to foster a culture that prevents
sexual violence.

In the fall of 2015, UBC was in the news again, with several
women alerting the media about the university’s delayed reaction to numerous
complaints of sexual violence by a male doctoral student. UBC officials urged
the complainants to pursue mediation and to keep quiet (Mayor, 2015). Later
that year, coverage of the story by the CBC’s Fifth Estate brought an
announcement from the university that the doctoral student had been expelled
(“School of Secrets,” 2015).

The spring of 2016 brought a fresh round of campus sexual
violence stories on the front pages of the national news outlets (Crabb, 2016).
A student group at Brandon University revealed that the administration had
required a student to sign a contract agreeing to not speak publicly about an
assault, after she disclosed the incident to the university in September 2015.
Failing to comply with the terms of the contract was to risk a range of
disciplinary actions, including expulsion. Shortly after the initial media
reports, eight more alleged survivors came forward, including the former
student president, who was told by the senior administrator to whom she had
reported sexual harassment by a faculty member that filing a formal complaint
“isn’t going to be in your best interest … you’re in a position of leadership,
you’re a woman, this is something that happens to you and you just need to
learn how to deal with it” (Macyshon, 2016). The university reply to the flood
of media coverage included an announcement that, following the September 2015
incident, a task force had been established to examine services and supports
(Crabb, 2016).

On the heels of the Brandon story, a Brock University
student who was sexually harassed by a professor in the fall of 2015 went to
the media to describe the university’s response to her complaint. During and
following the university’s internal investigation of her complaint, the student
was warned to keep quiet about the incident (Sawa, 2016). Within a month of the
media story, another student came forward to the local newspaper with similar
allegations of sexual harassment the previous year and the university’s
mishandling of her complaint (Firth, 2016). The university president was quick
to announce the establishment of the Human Rights Task Force, mandated to
review all the campus policies and procedures related to sexual violence.

— excerpted from the introduction, Elizabeth Quinlan, in Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities

Table of contents

Introduction | Elizabeth Quinlan


Part I: Campus Sexual Violence: Impacts, Voids, and Institutional Betrayals

1. Sexual coercion on campus: The impact of victimization on the educational experiences of Canadian women | Lana Stermac, Sarah Horowitz, and Sheena Bance

2. Campus violence, Indigenous women, and the policy void | Carrie Bourassa, Melissa Bendig, Eric J. Oleson, Cassandra A. Ozog, Jennifer L. Billan, Natalie Owl, and Kate Ross-Hopley

3. Institutional Betrayal and Sexual Violence in the Corporate University | Elizabeth Quinlan


Part II: Violent Spaces on Canadian University Campuses

4. “It’s not about one bad apple”: The 2007 York University Vanier residence rapes | Madison Trusolino

5. The rape chant at Saint Mary’s University: The convergence of business school ethics, alcohol consumption, and varsity sport | Judy Haiven

6. Violent bodies in campus cyberspaces | Andrea Quinlan

7. Precarious masculinity and rape culture in Canadian university sport | Curtis Fogel


Part III: Institutional Prevention and Responses to Sexual Violence

8. Women as experts: Origins and developments of METRAC’s campus safety audit | Andrea Gunraj

9. Theory becomes practice: The Bystander Initiative at the University of Windsor | Anne Forest and Charlene Y. Senn

10. A critical analysis of the report Student Safety in Nova Scotia: Co-creating a vision and language for safer and socially just campus communities | Norma Jean Profitt and Nancy Ross


Part IV: Fighting Back: Anti-Violence Activism on Campus

11. The Coalition Against Sexual Assault: Activism Then and Now at the University of Saskatchewan | Elizabeth Quinlan and Gail Lasiuk

12. Collective conversations, collective action: York University’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ support line and students organizing for campus safety | Jenna M. MacKay, Ursula Wolfe, and Alexandra Rutherford


Part V: Strategies for Change

13. From reacting to preventing: Addressing sexual violence on campus by engaging community partners | Julie S. Lalonde

14. Why theory matters: Using philosophical resources to develop university practices and policies regarding sexual violence | Ann J. Cahill

15. Responding to sexual assault on campus: What can Canadian universities learn from U. S. law and policy? | Elizabeth Sheehy and Daphne Gilbert


About the Authors 



At least one in four women attending college or university will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. Beyond this staggering statistic, recent media coverage of “rape chants” at Saint Mary’s University, misogynistic Facebook posts from Dalhousie University’s dental school, and high-profile incidents of sexual violence at other Canadian universities point to a widespread culture of rape on university campuses and reveal universities’ failure to address sexual violence. As university administrations are called to task for their cover-ups and misguided responses, a national conversation has opened about the need to address this pressing social problem.

This book takes up the topic of sexual violence on campus and explores its causes and consequences as well as strategies for its elimination. Drawing together original case studies, empirical research, and theoretical writing from scholars and community and campus activists, this interdisciplinary collection charts the costs of campus sexual violence on students and university communities, the efficacy of existing university sexual assault policies and institutional responses, and historical and contemporary forms of activism associated with campus sexual violence.


... a welcome and much needed volume of analyses, accounts, and reflections upon the current climate at post-secondary institutions across Canada. . .. With particular attention to survivor experiences and activist efforts, the book offers a wealth of knowledge and tools to all stakeholders who wish to inform themselves, take action, and work towards a climate of safety and mutual respect. . .. As we continue to work through this tipping point in Canadian higher education, we need more books like this one, and more people reading them.

- Alistair Hibberd, Canadian Journal of Sociology