“The most violent element in society is ignorance”
Our intention for the event was to emphasize the coercive perfidy of the University administration while demonstrating self-determination. The response of the university (or lack thereof) perpetuates a culture of fear, in essence- a rape culture. The response has been abhorrent- the same trite rhetoric that places the onus on students most susceptible to sexual violence (women, lgbtq minorities) in place of addressing why this violence occurs. As the semester comes to an end, we demand that the university administration allows for the creation of new precedents for the following year; a substantive approach to ending sexual violence which integrates feminist pedagogy. We cannot dismantle rape culture without supporting survivors, the approach must be preventative and also restorative. Survivors need to heal, there must be resources in place to support survivors of sexual violence. In order for UBC to be a place where survivors and those who live in fear to be visible, to exist autonomously and to feel entitled to take up space, the response must change. For too long, we have been silenced, reduced, ignored and repudiated. We cannot divorce sexual violence from colonial, racialized and gendered contexts. Rape is a tool of colonialism. Colonialism is a patriarchal endeavor that works to exploit groups through racist and sexist subordination. Historically and currently, Indigenous and racialized groups of women are disproportionately targeted as victims of rape and other forms of vale violence. A colonialist framework justifies sexualized violence against women. Such a framework continues to perpetuate the deliberate silence of the State and the lack of political and legal action regarding thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. As UBC is an extension of the Canadian political climate, we cannot move forward without centering the voices who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, and more susceptible to cyclical discrimination (i.e reporting). An example of UBC’s complicity in perpetuating colonial violence would be the Pocahontas chants (following the RAPE chants) during UBC’s Frosh (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/insulting-pocahontas-chant-sparks-changes-at-ubc-1.2129023).
On Friday, April 10th, approximately 50 students gathered in the waiting area, outside of President Gupta’s office (located on the 7th floor of Koerner library). Prior to the occupation of said space, some of us met in the Women’s Centre to make signs. Shortly after, we proceeded to walk down to Koerner Library to occupy President Gupta’s office for an hour and a half. Promptly at 11am, as soon as we began taking up space, the university administration surprised us by addressing those gathered at the sit-in. As we voiced our demands to the students in attendance, Louise Cowin, Vice President of Students, entered the space to listen in on our purpose for organizing this action. After hearing what we saw as a deliberate failure on the part of the university in responding to sexual violence on campus and the unacceptably limited resources and support available to survivors, Cowin decided to speak to these issues following our initial reading.
Cowin purports the the university administration is attempting to ameliorate the response to sexual violence on campus…
While acknowledging the failures and inaction of the university in addressing sexual violence on campus, Cowin, suggested students access information regarding the steps to report and receive support following sexual assault through a recently created university website. One student asked for the name of the website URL, catching Cowin off guard, who took several moments to recall it, admitted she didn’t know and “would have to look it up” and then later remembered it’s address. Understandably, students were unsatisfied with this reductive remedial strategy and other delayed attempts to inform students of ways they can individually take action (obscuring the complicity on behalf of UBC as an institution and neglecting the systemic inequalities that produce rape culture.) One student interjected that she, like the majority of students attending, were not even aware of this webpage and felt it’s existence did little to actively change the current climate of disregarded misogyny on campus. An obvious tension developed between disappointed students after Cowin’s authoritative response failed to establish any tangibility of empathy or action. Agreeing that the onus should be taken off of survivors of sexual violence and placed onto those who are perpetrating these acts of violence, following questions directed to Cowin demanded action and continued to name the abject failure of the university in responding to sexual violence as a key agent in the maintenance and tolerance of rape culture on the UBC campus.
Lack of resources, perpetuation of the stranger rape myth and campaigns that warn women not to walk alone on campus were also discussed between Cowin and attendees. We demanded a reconstruction of the message, literature, and rhetoric on campus regarding rape, and asked instead for a campaign highlighting the consequences of committing assault, targeting those who commit acts of sexual violence. Additionally, demands were made for funding and resources to launch an alternative campaign that provides clear, practical, accessible steps for reporting sexual violence could encourage survivors to report knowing that they will be believed and supported. Cowin did little to discuss logistics and particulars when addressing our demands, but maintained an understanding position and acknowledged that the failures of the university. When asked if she felt UBC’s response was adequate, Cowin agreed it was not and ensured that the administration was constructing a better response. Until we meet with Cowin and other officials, the details of this new approach are unknown. While engaging in questions with attendees, one student asked if someone from Cowin’s office could take notes to revisit as often these conversations are productive in the moment but are not accounted for and the ideas discussed are never actualized. Cowin reminded that a meeting with the Women’s Centre would be a more appropriate place for note-taking and the discussion went undocumented. While Cowin’s presence was appreciated, there was an undeniable feeling that as attendees, we were being clouded with potentially empty rhetoric, in hopes of temporarily amending the issue until the attention on sexual assault diminishes. However, we will continue to insist that the University address the rampant misogyny and sexual violence on campus and transform the popular discourse regarding rape by addressing systemic, institutional powers that delimit and disempower marginalized individuals and target perpetrators of rape rather than warning students to avoid victimization.
Following Cowin’s address, students gathered in groups to discuss their experiences, ideas and expectations of the university following this action. We are in contact with the President’s office regarding a meeting between the UBC Women’s Centre and the UBC administration to discuss our demands and seek action.
Our demands are as follows: The University must allocate resources to prevent sexual violence on campus, in addition to supporting survivors of sexual violence. Without accessible resources and a comprehensible avenue to report, UBC is complicit in reproducing systems of violence.
The university must delineate adequate resources such as…
- Improved sexual assault training for Resident Advisors
- Mandatory consent and anti-violence training for FROSH leaders and groups or organizations who have been historically sexist (fraternities, sports teams and other male-centric groups which champion masculinist traits)
- Funding for an independent survivors of sexual violence support group on campus (for example, survivor support group initiated by the Women’s Centre)
- Creation of manuals and resources with clear steps to report sexual assault distributed to first-year and other campus residences and organizations
- Funding for a campaign to encourage survivors to report to the appropriate body (whether a university funded crisis line or SASC) knowing that they will be believed and supported unequivocally
- Change the language/literature and rhetoric on campus regarding “don’t walk alone.” Include disciplinary consequences of assaulting
- Fully funded self-defence training for all women and LGBTQIA+ persons made available and accessible
- 24 hour accessibility of the Women’s Centre
- Creation of a task force dismantling gender violence (e.g. C.A.R.E)
Note: We will be posting a public report demonstrating the political reasons for our demands prior to our meeting with UBC administration
Historically, the university has failed to act on their word. Following Louise’s “talk,” we reiterated that we will be returning in protest until our demands are met. This is imperative, and we will not allow for the university to eviscerate women on campus and deny us resources; we are entitled to their time. We are aware of the university’s tactics, and Louise Cowin may be empathetic to our cause, as a woman herself, but she is also an actor for a neoliberal institution. We will be having another meeting this Thursday, April 21st at 7pm in the Women’s centre (http://www.ubcwomenscentre.com/ this is a space for all women ). Our intention for this meeting is to debrief and discuss our motives for the meeting with the University administration.
Lasty, if you are experiencing sexual violence currently or presently, do not hesitate to contact us at UBC women’s centre (located at 245 G in the SUB). We can offer peer support and guidance regarding resource accessibility on and off campus. Positive spaces on campus such as Pride UBC and SASC may also be useful. As there is no clear trajectory for those seeking support, we can only strive for more.
Emily and Alexis on behalf of UBC Women’s Centre
Photos by Kay Ho, editor of the Talon.