I wrote my first article for The Bull & Bear last fall on the administration’s sexual assault policy. Specifically, I tackled inappropriate student-faculty relationships. At that point in time, I was fresh-off Frosh, with little idea of what McGill life would bring. A lot has changed since then, both for me personally and within the McGill community. McGill’s administration announced that it will be replacing the Redmen name, the Y-intersection and Leacock have finally fallen prey to Montreal’s rampant construction, and I moved into my first apartment. However, McGill’s policy on sexual relations between students and faculty appears virtually untouched.
Issues like sexual misconduct on our campus—problems that are so pertinent and damaging to student life—cannot merely dissipate by being ignored. Instead, concrete policy must address these issues head on.
To be completely transparent, I nearly forgot about this underlying problem during my first year at McGill. Neither I, nor anyone close to me, had any uncomfortable encounters with faculty members. I also personally did not hear of any new stories of sexual assault on campus involving faculty.
Although the issue seems to have disappeared from both my immediate and peripheral vision, the problem of sexual misconduct among both students and faculty on campus still persists. Issues like sexual misconduct on our campus—problems that are so pertinent and damaging to student life—cannot merely dissipate by being ignored. Instead, concrete policy must address these issues head on.
At the end of this past school year, McGill’s administration launched a new, mandatory online course for both students and faculty as part of Quebec’s requirements on sexual violence prevention and consent. The course even includes a segment on power dynamics between faculty and students: a nod to multiple allegations against McGill professors that have emerged in the past few years.
For those unfamiliar with McGill’s ongoing, faculty-inflicted sexual assault, these allegations include unwanted sexual advances and instructors holding office hours in bars. These persistent allegations prompted SSMU (Student Society of McGill University) and various faculty members to send an open letter to McGill’s administration demanding action on the matter.
In April, 2018, SSMU organized a walkout alongside Concordia students to demonstrate the magnitude of the issue. Despite these efforts, McGill’s administration maintained their loose sexual misconduct policies and flooded students’ emails with somewhat empty promises and buzzwords in order to quell unrest.
While this new online course represents a much-needed acknowledgement that action must be taken, it also brings a new set of failures on the part of the administration. For one, returning students are to complete the online course by November, whereas faculty members do not have to complete it until January, 2020.
The underlying hypocrisy of this new program is that while it acknowledges the power dynamic that makes student-faculty relationships dangerous, McGill continues to allow for these relationships with shockingly few restrictions.
The later deadline for faculty members implies that students are held to a different standard than faculty members when it comes to incidences of sexual assault, and that the administration does not see the issue of faculty-inflicted sexual assault as urgent enough for the course to be completed at the beginning of the year.
This program certainly provides a promising outlook on McGill’s handling of sexual assault. However, the policy includes mixed messages; it implies that student-faculty relationships are still permitted on campus as long as they are disclosed. The underlying hypocrisy of this new program is that while it acknowledges the power dynamic that makes student-faculty relationships dangerous, McGill continues to allow for these relationships with shockingly few restrictions.
Teaching about the issue is a decent first step, but action eventually must be taken in order to put an end to sexual misconduct at McGill. Student-faculty relationships inevitably involve a power disbalance that eliminates the possibility of consent and creates an unsafe environment for students.
Our administration is adamant about the golden rule during Frosh (which rightly prohibits relationships between Frosh leaders and Froshies), and they prohibit actions as miniscule as students tattooing Suzanne Fortier’s signature for a scavenger hunt. Our school must therefore also take the issue of faculty-inflicted sexual assault—an issue with far graver consequences than a tasteless tattoo—just as seriously.
McGill fails to take proper action on this issue by explicitly banning student-faculty relationships while promptly adding gratuitous rules for students. Until the administration changes their approach, they will continue to punish students while absolving professors of their inappropriate behaviour.
[EDIT 09/26/19: A previous version of this article conflated separate policies regarding student-teacher relationships for students within and outside a staff member’s faculty. For the sake of accuracy, Paragraph 9 has been revised. For more on the policy itself, read this.]