On February 15, Dean of Students Christopher Buddle, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell, and Teaching and Learning Services Skills Development Officer Alex Liepins held an information session on the upcoming McGill-wide consent training program. Starting this summer, all McGill students, faculty, and staff will participate in the mandatory online consent training in compliance with Quebec Bill 151.
The program’s developers invited a group of key stakeholders to attend the information session, including faculty deans, student affairs offices within faculties, security services, athletics, and SSMU executives. The information session doubled as a consultation where stakeholders could ask questions and give feedback about the modules. This was the first time that anyone outside of the working group has had the opportunity to see the content of the training.
The presenters began the information session with some background about why McGill is putting this training into effect. They explained that McGill is implementing the training in accordance with Bill 151, which was adopted in Quebec in December 2017 and aims to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education, and took effect on January 1, where all requirements outlined in the bill must be implemented by September 1. That being said, the presenters acknowledged the tight timeline for the project and outlined the measures they are taking to roll out the program smoothly.
With the timeline in place, Buddle and Campbell want to release the modules in May in the hope that incoming new students will complete the training by the time they arrive at McGill in Fall. All students and faculty must complete the modules by the end of the Fall semester, and administrative staff will be expected to complete the training during the Winter semester.
According to Buddle, the small working group that curated the content mainly included students and staff from the Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (OSVRSE) in addition to the presenters. The group began discussing the project last fall, and have been thinking up ways to facilitate the program and ensure that it is meaningful. Buddle explained: “It’s always sort of this balance around finding an effective way to teach very difficult content to fifty thousand people.” He elaborated, saying: “We didn’t want this to be something that people could just click ‘play’ on and then go make their coffee… it had to be something that had the right level of interaction.”
It’s always sort of this balance around finding an effective way to teach very difficult content to fifty thousand people
The interactive online education program, which was originally developed by a working group from Concordia and has been tailored to fit the McGill context, offers slightly different content for students and staff. The program consists of four modules for both groups, addressing sexual violence, sexual consent, bystander intervention, and supporting survivors. The sexual consent module for staff also discusses student-staff relationships; Buddle highlighted the importance of including information on “relationships of power, trust, and authority” in the program, as this has been a highly salient topic on campus in recent years.
Following a brief sample of the bystander intervention module, various stakeholders were given the chance to offer feedback, ask questions, and raise concerns. A primary concern was expressed about whether the current form of the program represented the diversity of the community. In response to these considerations, Campbell confirmed that the program speaks to the disproportionate rate at which racialized persons, disabled persons, and persons of minority gender representations experience sexual assault.
She maintained, “We’ve been looking at the modules as a whole with a diverse group of people – students, faculty, and staff – ensuring that we have the capacity to roll out modules that would allow different groups of individuals on campus to see themselves represented in what they’re learning.” In addition to taking diversity into account, the program also has safety and accessibility mechanisms in place, including a ‘feeling overwhelmed’ button that allows users to pause the training and provides information for resources on campus.
Stakeholders also wanted to make sure that the university would still facilitate in-person workshops related to sexual violence and consent throughout the year, and stressed the importance of discussion-based programming in teaching about consent. To this query, Buddle replied that “This is not an endpoint, this is only a starting point.” He assured that OSVRSE will continue to facilitate and grow their programming, and Rez Project will continue to run workshops around issues of consent. According to Buddle, the training is merely meant to provide everyone with a basic understanding of the topics.
Ultimately, the project developers view the implementation of the training program as a dynamic process, and hope to modify and perfect the modules over time. “We’re not looking at this as a ‘checkbox’ that we now have online modules and we’re done for five years. That’s not how we’re looking at it,” Buddle expressed. “As this unrolls, there will be opportunities for feedback to make important changes to reflect the needs of the community.”