Last week, the CBC reported that this past September a Concordia Creative Writing professor had been “exonerated” of complaints of sexual violence and harassment. The complainants received no information about the change of status. We condemn the mishandling of this case. From what we and our community members have learned about the official complaint process at Concordia, this end result is all too common.
There are, however, still two “unnamed” part-time teachers in the Creative Writing Department that are on leave and being investigated through a similar procedure. A few days prior to the CBC’s report, the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) hosted a panel conversation on Sexual Misconduct, Consent, and the University Climate. CUPFA is the union representing these two suspended professors.
Alongside activists like Julie Lalonde, CUPFA invited Julius Grey to speak on the panel. He is the human rights lawyer currently representing McGill Professor Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim, who is attempting to sue a student and another professor for voicing their concerns that Ibrahim had behaved inappropriately towards students. Grey’s presence derailed what could have been a productive conversation at the panel into a debate questioning whether the #metoo movement “had gone too far” and if Statistics Canada is lying about their data on false rape accusations. This panel could have been relevant to our community concerns by having more in-depth conversations about student-professor power dynamics and the accompanying inherent risks.
C.A.S.E. chooses to connect these two events because we recognize that our institution’s current system for representing survivors of sexual violence and preventing the abuse of students is broken. The institution’s lengthy system for filing complaints lacks transparency and advocacy for complainants. This contradicts claims that Concordia believes survivors and undermines trust in campus programs like the Sexual Assault Resource Centre. Resolving these kinds of policy issues in universities like Concordia, while still protecting labor rights, was the kind of conversation that should have been presented at last week’s CUPFA panel. Instead, it wasted the opportunity to discuss issues that are crucial to student safety and well-being, as well as demonstrated the imbalanced priorities of an organization meant to protect precariously employed people.
We are deeply concerned at the direction CUPFA chose to take the panel and believe that they are invested in protecting the reputation of faculty over the safety of students. We are disappointed. The events of the past year have already fractured the relationship between students and faculty in the English and Creative Writing Department. Concordia continues to assist in alienating and endangering students when their complaint process lacks transparency and student representation.
The Concordia Association for Students in English is troubled by the fact that the responsibility of calling out inappropriate behaviour and abuse within our classrooms and campus community continually falls on the shoulders of individual students. We cannot continue to bear this weight. We’re tired of witnessing its effects on our members. We will be working over the next few months to provide support for our students.
We are calling to action the other members of our community, like CUPFA, Concordia University, and individual faculty and staff members of these institutions. Students need to see real action that demonstrates support for believing survivors and building networks that prevent the abuse of power dynamics.
We invite students, community organizations, staff, faculty and alumnus to sign on in support of this letter to acknowledge that:
- The complaint system at Concordia, and the legislation that supports its silence, is broken. Policies at Concordia around complaints lack support or transparency for students and complainants, which is in direct opposition to the ideals of SARC.
- Concordia must be changed to incorporate assistance for complainants in writing their formal grievances and provide the same kind of legal representation that accused professors and staff receive during an investigation.
- CUPFA needs to clarify their relationship with Julius Grey and whether he has represented members of their association, in the past or present.
- CUPFA must apologize for misrepresenting the intent of its Sexual Misconduct panel and for silencing voices of its audience by not allowing a question period afterwards.
- Concordia needs to publicly apologize to past and present English and Creative Writing students that have been put at risk for, and experienced, sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of professors over the years.
- CUPFA and Concordia, as institutions as well as its individuals, are responsible for changing the toxic community by implementing bystander intervention policies. They must promote responsibility between faculty to hold one other accountable to community standards and communicating those standards to their students.
- Professors must commit to explicitly setting standards of behaviour for themselves and students in their classrooms.
- Concordia staff and faculty should be directly asking for bystander intervention expectations and training that relates to their department, to prepare them to intervene.
- Concordia needs to provide an explanation for the delay in the English and Creative Writing Climate Review, as well as set a specific deadline for its public release of recommendations.
- Concordia, CUPFA, and the English Department must regularly update students and the public about its actions towards implementing these necessary changes.
Follow this link to sign on and agree to the contents of our statement, including the demands. The demands and the signatures will be sent to CUPFA, Concordia University’s President, and the English Department.
We encourage our students to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any changes they would like to see on this list of demands as well as types of support they would like to see.
Concordia Association for Students in English