Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Announcement: Sherrie-Lee R. Chiarot-Petrie
Premier Wynne, Honourable Michael Gravelle, Honourable Reza Moridi, Honourable Bill Mauro, Honourable Tracy MacCharles, President Brian Stevenson, task force members and guests: thank you for inviting me here.
It feels strange to speak to you today. It feels strange to speak to you because this policy comes from the traumatic experience of someone I’ve never met. It feels strange because I was not in Thunder Bay, nor Canada, when the individual who was violated off-campus wrote a letter to the editor of the Chronical Journal about how they failed to receive the compassion and care that they should have gotten from their professor here at Lakehead University. It feels strange because although I’m a Graduate student, I have always been terrified to speak about policy.
But maybe that’s the point.
I’m here because I know, all too well, the importance of compassion and care after trauma. I’m here because I research peoples lived experiences with sexual violence. All too often, lived experience is not accounted for in policies. But Lakehead Universities Sexual Violence and Harassment policy came, not because of federal or provincial regulations changing, but because of someone’s lived experience. I’m here because I’m proud to be a student of a university that cares.
As I mentioned, in 2014, a letter-to-the-editor appeared in the Chronical Journal. The individual, who had graduated by then, shared that she had been violated, off campus, by another student. She shared that she did not receive the accommodations that she had asked for. This letter appeared in the newspaper on a Saturday, and by Monday morning, President Stevenson had already set plans for a task-force in motion.
I can’t speak to the nuances of how the policy was formed, because I was not involved in that. What I can speak to, though, is my lived experiences collaborating with faculty, staff, and other student activists, so that Lakehead University can become better equipped to care.
As a Teacher’s Assistant, I taught the section on Locating Sexual Violence to the Introduction to Women’s Studies class last year and this year. Last year, when I got to class on the first day of my lecturing, I had just read the current Resource Brochure, and was thrown off by some, what I believed to be, problematic language. After sharing this with my supervisor, he and I decided to make a classroom activity out of it. The next class, the students had a half-hour discussion about the pamphlet, which led to me e-mailing Marian Ryks-Szelekovszky (sell-a-cough-ski), Vice Provost (Student Affairs) a document with 13 suggestions-for-improvement. She replied, enthusiastically, that those suggestions would be taken into consideration for when the brochure was revised. Several months later, I was invited to take part in the process of revising that brochure, alongside Marian, Dr. Lori Chambers (task force chair), Robert Perrier (student success centre director) and Stephanie Simko (Gender Issues Centre co-ordinator).
Earlier this year, the Gender Issues Centre took part in Carrying That Weight, which is a movement that was born out of Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz’s lived experience. Emma experienced sexual violence on her campus, and after being inadequately supported by Columbia University, decided to carry her 50 pound mattress everywhere that she went on campus until her offender was expelled. Led by Stephanie Simko, student volunteers (alongside representatives from other campus centres, such as the student-run Bicycle Cooperative and the Environmental Student Centre), collected more than 300 cards where not only students, but staff as well as faculty pledged to adequately support people who experience sexual violence. These pledge cards were displayed proudly behind myself and others who spoke at this years Take Back The Night event.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I research lived experience. Like most people, I believe in the importance of my research. I believe, therefore, in the importance of lived experiences. And while I don’t have the authority to speak to the experience of the individual who wrote to the Chronical Journal, I can speak to my own experience.
Dr. Maya Angelou once said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”. Lakehead University cares. While Lakehead has recognized this problem and already taken important steps to address it, the provincial government is also stepping forward to make improvements. Lakehead University, and now the province of Ontario, recognized that there was a problem that needed to be addressed; that they could do better for students. And so they have.