Education, prevention and support are the focus of a task force formed by Lakehead University president Brian Stevenson in response to an anonymous letter to the editor last weekend in which a student complained the school brushed aside her concerns about being in the same class as her attacker. Lori Chambers (pictured), chair of the department of women’s studies, will head the task force.
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Lori Chambers vowed Thursday to make members of her task force work hard.
The chair of Lakehead University’s women’s studies program earlier this week was named to head the working group, created to look into the school’s policies and procedures dealing with victims of sexual assault.
The Thunder Bay school was rocked on the weekend by an anonymous letter published in a local newspaper, penned by a female student who claimed school officials brushed aside concerns put forth by the victim that she might sign up for a class with her alleged attacker.
Chambers said the task force shows the school is taking the complaint seriously and hope to put in place new guidelines should a student, who said she was attacked off-campus by a fellow student, find themselves in a similar situation again.
“We’re distressed when our students are hurt and we want to work very hard to make sure the policies are in place on this campus to support our students when we need that support,” Chambers said.
Education, prevention and support are the three key areas she wants the task force to focus on over the next six to eight months, before a report is filed with the university.
The first is obvious, she said. Sexual assault is wrong, but it’s prevalent in Canadian society, especially among university-aged people. While stopping it is ideal, that might be asking too much, certainly of a university.
Therefore Chambers is a realist – the supports have to be in place.
“We want to be sure we do a thorough review of all practices on this campus, formal policy and informal practices,” she said. “What do we do when someone comes to us and says they’ve been harmed in a way like this?
“And how can we make those policies better. How can we encourage people to be sympathetic, understanding, have knowledge about the harms that have come to students and to say, ‘Here is how we can help you and these are the resources that are available to you.’”
The complainant, who school officials say they don’t know the identity of, said she went first to her faculty chair, then through an intermediary, the faculty dean.
The school cited privacy reasons for not revealing whether or not the woman had been placed in a class with her attacker, which ultimately she was, causing her stress levels to rise. They also told her to make use of campus security if she was concerned about harassment from her attacker and his friends.
Lakehead president Brian Stevenson, who swiftly formed the task force after the allegations came to light in the media, said he was deeply distressed to learn of the incident and quickly grew concerned the school’s policies might be outdated.
What’s in place currently is a mixture of government-mandated and home-grown policies, which Stevenson promised will get a complete overhaul if necessary.
“We have a zero tolerance with respect to sexual assault,” Stevenson said.
“I think the policies in place that we had to help a student under those circumstances obviously I think were no sufficient from what I can see from the letter. What we’re trying to do is to figure out how we can improve those. The problem we have is we have to balance the privacy requirements that we have in terms of all of our students with these kinds of situations.”
In the absence of a formal complaint with police or school security, the school is limited in what it can do at this time.
“What we want to do is expand the ability that we have in those circumstances to continue to help support students to make it as easy as possible for us to help them.”
The task force will comprised of the following:
Click here to submit a letter to the editor.
Chair: Dr. Lori Chambers, Chair, Department of Women's Studies
Dawn MacDonald, Manager, Ambulatory Day Care/Sexual Assault Domestic Violence, Thunder Bay Regional Health Centre
Doreen Boucher, Executive Director, Thunder Bay Sexual Assault Sexual Abuse Counselling and Crisis Centre
Three students, to be recommended by the Lakehead University Student Union
A student chosen by Residence Council
Sherry Herchak, Acting Associate Vice-President, Human Resources
Professor Lee Stuesser, Dean, Faculty of Law
Marian Ryks-Szelekovszky, Vice-Provost, Student Affairs
Karen Chan, Manager, Student Health & Counseling Services Centre
Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Vice-Provost, Aboriginal Initiatives
David Hare, Director of Residence and Conference Services
Frank Cappadocia, Associate Vice-Provost, Orillia Campus
Tom Warden, Director, Athletics
Linda Moffatt, Acting Manager, Security Services