top of page

A whole-of-institution approach to addressing campus sexual violence: University of British Columbia

Updated: Apr 10

I spent two days at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, to understand the full ecosystem of sexual violence prevention, response, support and activism on campus. During this time, I conducted six interviews with seven staff and students from across the university:

  1. Carly Stanhope, the Director of the Investigations Office at UBC.

  2. Alicia Oeser, Director of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office at UBC.

  3. Savannah Sutherland, the Assistant Manager of the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) at the Alma Mater Society (AMS) (UBC student union).

  4. Dana Turdy, the Vice President Academic at the AMS.

  5. Ismail Muftau, the Vice President of University and Academic Affairs at the Graduate Student Society (GSS).

  6. Mimi Neufeld, Policy Advisor at the AMS and Sasha Wiley-Shaw, an Educator at the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office at UBC.


Location: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


A light blue Banner that reads: If you have been sexually assaulted, We Believe You. You are not alone. We are a safe place for students, faculty and staff. gethelp@svpro.ubc.ca svpro.ubc.ca UBC Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office
'We Believe You' Banner outside the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office

In conversation with Carly Stanhope, the Director of the Investigations Office

Firstly, I met with Carly Stanhope, Director of the Investigations Office at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The office investigates complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination involving students, faculty and staff at UBC's Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. Speaking with Stanhope helped me to understand how complaints are handled at the university. I was immediately impressed by how candidly Stanhope explained the strengths and challenges of the response system at UBC and how she has approached the role since starting 11 months prior to our interview. 


To build trust with UBC community members, particularly communities who may have deep seated institutional distrust, the Investigations Office is transparent with the process and outcomes of sexual violence reports through their Annual Reporting (as required by the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act). This Act, which was introduced in 2016 and requires all universities in British Columbia to establish and implement sexual violence policies, was the catalyst for the Investigations Office being opened. As a result, the Investigations Office works hard to ensure community members understand the university’s sexual violence policy, the available processes, what they could look like including the potential outcomes, and the length of time these processes may take.

 

The Investigations Office responds to formal complaints of sexual misconduct, as opposed to disclosures. Community members who disclose sexual misconduct have access to support services through the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) without needing to go through a formal complaint process. If the same person's name keeps coming up as a perpetrator of harm, then SVPRO can make a complaint to the Investigations Office on behalf of multiple victim-survivors. Stanhope recognises, however, that anonymous reporting, or circumstances where the victim-survivor does not wish to engage in formal processes, limits UBC’s ability to investigate complaints. UBC’s policy also requires that upon receipt of a third party report (a report submitted by someone other than the person who experienced harm), the Investigations Office advises the victim-survivor of the allegations relating to them, as well as support options at the University. The victim-survivor has the choice to participate in the investigation, or not.

 

In a formal complaints process, there are two options:

  1. Investigation of a formal report. If an investigation results in a finding of sexual misconduct, this often leads to a disciplinary outcome.

  2. Alternative resolutions process. The Investigations Office offers various forms of alternative resolutions processes, including restorative justice and mediation, which each have unique objectives. Outcomes could include training through SVPRO, an apology to the victim-survivor and/or agreement to not interact with the victim-survivor any further.


Stanhope and her team are a well-resourced and valued part of the university, which allows them to implement the policy correctly and deliver services effectively and efficiently.

 

Stanhope entered her role in the Investigations Office with a view to work to improve the system and the outcomes for all participants. This is why she has focused on increasing the role of alternative resolutions processes and giving choice, voice and agency to all parties involved.

_________________________________________________________________________

In conversation with Alicia Oeser, the Director of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office

Camille and Alicia are smiling in front of a bookshelf in an office.
Left to right: Camille Schloeffel and Alicia Oeser

Alicia Oeser is the Director of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) at UBC. SVPRO is a confidential place for those who have experienced, or been impacted by, any form of sexual or gender-based violence regardless of where or when it took place. SVPRO provides support to students, faculty and staff and delivers prevention education programs on consent culture, being an upstander, inequity and power dynamics, the neurobiology of trauma and how to support survivors. Oeser is a powerhouse leader who has worked across the sexual violence sector for 17 years in the USA and Canada. Oeser has a diverse range of experience having worked in rape crisis centres, domestic violence support, university sexual assault response, and in a victims of crime attorney's office. Something Oeser has carried across all of these roles is her friendly leadership style and her dedication to foster a safe and fun work environment that will lead to a better culture.


SVPRO has a student volunteer program where they host weekly meetings that any student can attend to support the work of the office, such as promoting events, conducting outreach activities on campus and online. A goal of Oeser during her time as Director is to start up a student-staff position so that students can be paid for their time working with the office and play more active roles in their prevention education programs. SVPRO also delivered a conference with the student union (Alma Mater Society), which included an introduction to SVPRO's work, their services, a workshop on responding to disclosures of harm, how to make events and meetings safer, and also a workbook of questions for students to consider.


SVPRO has an operational guide that provides a framework for how they deliver their education program. Key elements of this guide include that all of their work is underpinned by principles of decolonisation and intersectionality, delivered through a socioecological model and uses a public health framework of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Oeser and her team also deliver all of their education in a gender-neutral manner to be gender-inclusive.

“You’re never safe when you do this work. You always have a target on your back.”

Oeser spoke about the power of student activism when she worked in sexual violence prevention and response at Harvard University. There she was immediately provided resources to double the size of her team and to start a president's taskforce on this issue when the Dear Harvard: You Win letter was published in 2014. As a staff member however, it is extremely difficult to be an activist when the institution is also your employer and can retaliate in ways that can affect your livelihood and career. When Oeser was working at another university in the USA and was vocal about its inaction on sexual violence, her temporary employment contract wasn't renewed.

“This work is mostly comprised of women, non-binary and transgender people, which unfortunately means that we aren't taken seriously by faculty and administrators.”

A lot of the time, faculty and senior administrators of universities don't see sexual violence workers as intellectual equals with knowledge that they can learn from. This is indicative of sexist and misogynistic practices that are embedded within university systems.

“Gender inequity is the number one correlation to gender and sexual based violence worldwide.”

SVPRO works with departments across the university to advance gender equality as a way to create more harassment-resistant processes and spaces on campus. This focus on promoting equality is important because, in Oeser's experience, it is difficult to get staff to self-reflect on their own experiences and look inwards on the views and values they hold that reinforce gender stereotypes. Staff need to realise that they are an equal part of creating the culture at the university and that they also have a responsibility to contribute to creating communities of collective care.


I shared my struggles with working collaboratively with university staff in Australia with Oeser and asked for her advice as such an experienced leader having worked from within universities. She told me:

“Find the people who are not threatened by you and make noise with them.”

Oeser focuses on building relationships with people who come up to her after meetings or those who reach out asking for resources to share with their staff in an area of the university. These sorts of actions give an indication of who to talk to and who to build a critical mass with. In doing so, it is important to not put anyone at risk, especially risks you would not be willing to take (particularly considering how prone universities are to retaliating against staff who advocate on these issues). This links back to Oeser's positive leadership style that seeks to mitigate power imbalances and build coalition spaces for staff to come together to stand against sexual violence.

“This office is a direct result of student activism. Students are very vocal on the betrayal of the university.”

Oeser spoke about how there are two support systems at UBC through her office and the AMS (student union) led Sexual Assault Support Centre. Having two offices focused on sexual violence but providing unique services from each other, SVPRO is seen as part of the institution but is hired to support people who have been betrayed by the institution. This is an interesting reflection as it really demonstrates how these offices are dependent on who is hired to lead them. In my own personal experience of engaging with people in similar offices in Australia, I have been treated terribly and as though I am a nuisance to those employed to support me. This leads me to think that having two options (one by the student union and one by the university) available on campus can ensure that more students' needs are met and more trust can be built with the student body.

_________________________________________________________________________

In conversation with Savannah Sutherland, Assistant Manager of the Sexual Assault Support Centre

Savannah and Camille are standing smiling in front of a sign that reads: SASC Sexual Assault Support Centre
Left to right: Savannah Sutherland and Camille Schloeffel

Next, I visited Savannah Sutherland, the Assistant Manager of the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC), run out of the AMS (student union). SASC has been providing support, advocacy and education on sexual violence at UBC since 2002 (15 years before SVPRO was established). It was initially created as an initiative of Vancouver's Salal Sexual Violence Support Centre (formally known as WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre) due to the high demand of their services by UBC students. Now, SASC is run through the AMS, which means it is funded by student fees and revenues from AMS services and businesses. The AMS is a not-for-profit organisation with a separate governing structure with its own staff and student leaders. This means it operates independently from the university so the university cannot control or intervene in the operations of the AMS, and SASC by association.


SASC has two major arms of work:

  1. Education - including presentations, workshops, events, awareness raising and outreach activities.

  2. Support and Advocacy - including emotional support, safety planning and academic concessions for victim-survivors.


SASC staff and volunteers also contribute to other projects happening on campus, such as contributing to policy reform within the AMS and having a presence at events hosted by other social justice groups on campus. They make a particular effort to support First Nations action on campus and to ensure their work is practised through an anti-oppressive and decolonial lens. They also put community care into action with their staff and volunteers and always prioritise staff safety, wellbeing and health. An example of how they do this is by restricting support workers to a maximum of four appointments per day to ensure they have time to rest, rejuvenate and be more present for each person they support.


SASC is a relatively small service so they can't do everything. For the sake of those who use the service, they make sure to keep positive relationships with stakeholders in the community so that they can refer people where necessary. This is important for the people they support to be able to connect them with other services and resources, as they also support non-UBC students, people experiencing other harms, and people with suicidality that may need specialist mental health support.


I asked Sutherland, what does activism mean to you and how do you embed activism in your work?

“As a Black woman in Vancouver, I don’t have the choice to not be an activist. I am inherently an activist to survive.”

Sutherland spoke about how people from oppressed communities are already doing this activist work, so her philosophy is that she may as well get paid for it.

“I believe people are deserving of a life of integrity, support, strength and all of the good things.”

Sutherland's activism and care for other people shone through in how she seeks to provide more space, compassion, freedom and support in people's lives. Her goal is to alleviate some of the pressure of colonisation and take on some of that burden so others don’t have to. She is also passionate about equipping people in the community with the skills and confidence to do anti-violence work and empower themselves - as a form of long-term prevention through strength in communities.

“My entire trajectory of my life is a direct result of colonisation so there is only so much you can undo. We can't go completely back, you can only go forward.”

Sutherland spoke about how the Sexual Violence Support Centre is leading a transformative justice project that is informing their work in how they create spaces that are truly inclusive, including by removing ideas of gender when approaching this work.

_________________________________________________________________________

In conversation with Dana Turdy, Vice President Academic of the Alma Mater Society

Camille and Dana smiling in an office.
Left to right: Camille Schloeffel and Dana Turdy

Dana Turdy was the Vice President (VP) Academic of the Alma Mater Society (AMS) at the time of interviewing, which is the undergraduate student union at UBC. Dana's role as VP Academic is an elected position for a period of one year on a full-time contract. Her role involves lobbying and advocating on issues that affect UBC students, including sexual violence and other harms.


AMS is the largest student union in Canada, and they have a long history of strong student activism. They own and operate the AMS building on campus and provide various support and services within the university. AMS members also sit on a lot of student committees and represent student perspectives to the university's administration. However, every year the priorities change based on election outcomes. Student candidates for executive positions like Dana's must run as independents and cannot endorse other candidates. This is so that candidates remain impartial and do not run in alignment to broader political parties (which is how student union elections operate at many Australian universities). While the AMS provides services through student fees (such as the SASC), other resource groups are funded through their own separate fee. These include groups like the Social Justice Centre, Pride Collective, Women’s Centre, Disability United Club and Environmental Centre.


Turdy is also a powerful activist who draws on her personal and lived experiences as a woman of colour and daughter to Uyghur parents who took her to a lot of protests as a kid. This exposure to activism at a young age instilled the value in Turdy that:

“If you care about something you should fight for it.”

It's a delicate balance to have buy-in from university leaders for very needed reforms while also holding them accountable through collective action. The AMS leads a lot of protest action in response to inaction by university administrators, such as on student safety and wellbeing on campus. At the end of the day, Turdy says they do have to be realistic with their asks so the university can seek to implement them within their one-year term as an Executive member.

_________________________________________________________________________

In conversation with Ismail Muftau, the Vice President University and Academic Affairs at the Graduate Student Society


I also met with Ismail Muftau, the Vice President (VP) University and Academic Affairs at the Graduate Student Society (GSS) at the time of interviewing. Similar to Dana Turdy's role but for postgraduate-level students, Muftau is responsible for the academic wellbeing of students. This involves meeting with the Associate Dean, helping to develop policy that would directly affect postgraduate students, such as advocating for UBC to cover medical costs for international students, provide parental leave from studies, advocate for better research conditions and introduce more healthcare systems on campus.


The vast majority of sexual violence support and advocacy at UBC focuses on undergraduate students, so the GSS focuses on advocating for essential needs for graduate students (many who are international students) like food, housing, mental health, wellness and domestic violence. There is a lot of cultural diversity at UBC, with the highest numbers being amongst postgraduate students. Muftau and I spoke about how postgraduate students who experience sexual violence, intimate partner violence and/or sexual harassment by university staff/faculty, can feel unsupported by their university and subsequently suffer in silence. Many of these students are from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and often the prevention, response and support initiatives lack in catering to this cohort. Subsequently, Muftau and his GSS team also do a lot of mental health and wellness promotion, including through weekly newsletters, orientation sessions and on their social media channels. They  create an avenue for people to seek help and the support they need.

“At GSS, we listen to survivors who come to us and we ask them, what would you like us to do?”

GSS also has peer support and advocacy coordinators that assists students who experience sexual harassment from their supervisors – as this sort of harassment is unfortunately highly prevalent across the university sector. I found chatting to Muftau really refreshing as he said that while he does not feel he has a lot of knowledge about sexual violence and harm, he certainly knows how to relate to people, particular his international student peers, and be the best support he can in his role with the GSS.

_________________________________________________________________________

In conversation with Mimi Neufeld, Policy Advisor at the AMS and Sasha Wiley-Shaw, Educator at the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office

Camille, Sasha and Mimi smiling in a cafe
Left to right: Camille Schloeffel, Sasha Wiley-Shaw and Mimi Neufeld
“We have to do this work as a community.”

- Sasha Wiley-Shaw


My last interview was at a local coffee shop on campus with the wonderful Mimi Neufeld and Sasha Wiley-Shaw. Neufeld is a Policy Advisor at the AMS, which is an internal-facing staff position that works with the student executive members of the student union (such as Dana Turdy) with policy and organisational support. Wiley-Shaw is an Educator at SVPRO (Alicia Oeser's team), where she delivers prevention programs across the campus community to students, faculty and staff.


While Neufeld and Wiley-Shaw work from different sides of the university and through different elements of the work (policy and education), they are both committed to working together as a community to end sexual violence. Neufeld is also a volunteer with Students for Consent Culture (SFCC), a Canadian grassroots group dedicated to ending sexual violence on campus through advocacy and by building students networks for collective action.


When coming up against patriarchal institutions whose leaders are resistant to change, both Neufeld and Wiley-Shaw believe it's better to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. Because if we always seek permission to do the work, as I have learned in my work with The STOP Campaign, then universities can quickly use their power and authority to shut us down. The way Neufeld does this is by reviewing and re-writing the AMS sexual violence policy and respectful environment policy, and providing guidance material and templates to societies so that they can create policies themselves. 

“Courage to speak truth to power is not a common thing.”

- Sasha Wiley-Shaw


Wiley-Shaw has a strong activist background from when they were a student at UBC and into their career. Over time, they have watched multiple student leaders of the AMS and GSS run on a platform of addressing sexual violence, and then failing or stopping after reaching a barrier imposed by the institution. In this way, anti-hierarchical student unions end up imposing their institutional hierarchy and status quo by being unable to use their powerful position to face university leaders and push for change. Wiley-Shaw and Neufeld both work with these student leaders to help them use their positions of leadership to drive change on campus.

“If I can’t change your mind but I can change your behaviour that is success in this environment for faculty and staff.”

- Sasha Wiley-Shaw


In Wiley-Shaw's role as an educator at SVPRO, they are focused on addressing rape culture through a trauma-informed and anti-oppressive approach. This is what happens when institutions hire activists who aren't afraid to question the university and its harmful structures and who instead contribute greatly to culture change. What this looks like in practice is being proactive with areas of the university where problems keep arising with their conduct. For example, Wiley-Shaw has worked closely with campus security by educating them on respectful behaviour and breaking down misconceptions about sexual violence victim-survivors.

_________________________________________________________________________


A whiteboard that read a variety of messages: 'Consent is ... essential; turns me on; sexy!; respect and decency'
Whiteboard activity from a session on Consent delivered by SVPRO

My two days at UBC gave me a comprehensive overview of how sexual violence prevention, response and support is being addressed from different parts of the university to be all-encompassing for students, staff and faculty. While there is always more work to do, the formal institution of UBC and the AMS student union together are providing more services to support student victim-survivors on campus than I have seen at any other institution to date. Their commitment to ensuring their work is anti-oppressive (which is inherently anti-institutional), trauma-informed and intersectional is what we need more of in Australia. This is how we prevent sexual violence – by lifting up students and activists to lead the work, as we know this will ultimately lead to better outcomes for all.


In solidarity,

Camille Schloeffel


References / Learn more:

57 views0 comments

Comentários


bottom of page