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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 Canadiancampuses have garnered considerable media coverage. The stories draw particularattention to the perniciousness of a rape culture on campus and the inadequacyof Canadian universities’ prevention and response to sexual violence.

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

Within days of the uncovering of the Saint Mary’s chant, asimilar cheer surfaced at the University of British Columbia (UBC), followed bya 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 purchasein the traditional media. In response, the university president struck the TaskForce on Intersectional Gender-Based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes todevelop “actionable recommendations” addressing the violence rendered visibleby the revelations of the chant (University of British Columbia, 2014).

Later that fall, a Lakehead University student who had beensexually assaulted by a fellow student a year earlier went to the media withher story. After several unsuccessful attempts to lodge a formal complaint andarrange her classes to avoid the perpetrator, she was instructed to obtainwritten documentation of her “learning disability” from a campus doctor as thebest way to avoid having to write her exams in the same room as theperpetrator. She told the media that she didn’t blame the university for theactions of her fellow student, but did hold it responsible for its injuriousresponse to her requests for help. Soon after, the president formed a taskforce with a mandate to reduce or eliminate incidents of sexual assault and toensure that when reporting, survivors would have access to counselling, assistancewith medical care and academic concerns, and support in choices regardingreporting of the crime to law authorities. In particular, the task force wasmandated to make recommendations regarding changes to the Code of StudentBehaviour and Disciplinary Procedures, and the Employee Code of Conduct.

While the task forces at SMU, UBC, and Lakehead weredeveloping recommendations to address sexual violence on their campuses, inearly December 2014 a female dental student alerted the administration atDalhousie University to the posts from a Facebook group of 13 male dentalstudents, which promoted the use of sexual violence against their fellow femalestudents. One particularly offensive post appeared on the 25th anniversary ofthe Montreal Massacre. Like the 14 engineering students killed at l’ÉcolePolytechnique de Montréal, the female dental students were pursuing careers ina traditionally male preserve. The female dental student at Dalhousie whoalerted the administration wanted to lodge a formal complaint, but wasdissuaded from doing so in a meeting with the administrators. A week later, themedia obtained screenshots of the offending posts from an unknown source. Public outrage ensued. An online petition pressing the university to expel thestudents garnered 1000 signatures in a single afternoon. By mid-January, thenumber of signatures shot up to 50,000. While the provincial government wasannouncing it would monitor the situation, alumni across the country wereremoving their diplomas from their office walls and professional dentalassociations in various provinces were requesting the names of the Facebookgroup members, a request that the university refused, arguing it would violatethe students’ privacy. In early January, the 13 group members were suspended,only later to be offered alternative delivery formats for their courses so theycould graduate on schedule. A number of fourth-year female students wrote anopen letter to the president to convey their discomfort with the restorativejustice 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 solicitconsiderable media attention, in February 2014 a sexual assault was reported inThunder Bay. The alleged perpetrators were two University of Ottawa (UofO)hockey team members. A criminal investigation was initiated. A month later, thefemale president of the university’s student union went public with an onlinediscussion in which five male students directed violently misogynist comments towardher. The next day, the hockey team was suspended, and several months later thehockey coach was fired and the university president established a 15-membertask force to provide recommendations on how to foster a culture that preventssexual violence.

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

The spring of 2016 brought a fresh round of campus sexualviolence stories on the front pages of the national news outlets (Crabb, 2016). A student group at Brandon University revealed that the administration hadrequired a student to sign a contract agreeing to not speak publicly about anassault, 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 ofdisciplinary actions, including expulsion. Shortly after the initial mediareports, eight more alleged survivors came forward, including the formerstudent president, who was told by the senior administrator to whom she hadreported 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 tolearn how to deal with it” (Macyshon, 2016). The university reply to the floodof media coverage included an announcement that, following the September 2015incident, a task force had been established to examine services and supports(Crabb, 2016).

On the heels of the Brandon story, a Brock Universitystudent who was sexually harassed by a professor in the fall of 2015 went tothe media to describe the university’s response to her complaint. During andfollowing the university’s internal investigation of her complaint, the studentwas warned to keep quiet about the incident (Sawa, 2016). Within a month of themedia story, another student came forward to the local newspaper with similarallegations of sexual harassment the previous year and the university’smishandling of her complaint (Firth, 2016). The university president was quickto announce the establishment of the Human Rights Task Force, mandated toreview 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