By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The province is taking action after 63 per cent of university students responding to a survey regarding sexual violence said they have faced some type of sexual harassment on campus.
More than 160,000 university and college students responded to The Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey between February and April 2018.
Oshawa’s University of Ontario Institute of Technology had the lowest number of respondents who disclosed a sexual harassment experience at 49.3 per cent.
Overall, there were 2,732 respondents from the university to this part of the survey.
UOIT was 9.4 per cent lower than the next school, the University of Toronto.
The schools with the highest amount of reported experiences of sexual harassment were the Western University in London, Queen’s University in Kingston, and Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie.
At Durham College, 54.5 per cent of 605 respondents said they faced sexual harassment, placing it seventh highest among Ontario’s 23 publicly-funded colleges.
Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities called the results “disturbing” and committed $6 million in grant funding to improve sexual violence programs at post-secondary institutions.
Every publicly-funded college and university will be required to provide annual reports on measures taken to support students who have experienced sexual violence and review sexual violence policies by September.
Schools must also develop a task force, including “diverse student representatives.”
These task forces would be required to report to both the school’s board of governors and also the ministry.
The survey also revealed about 24 per cent of university students and 23 per cent of college students who responded experienced stalking as well.
Twenty-two per cent of UOIT students related to this experience, while 25.1 per cent of Durham College students reported it as well.
Durham MPP Lindsey Park, who’s riding includes UOIT and Durham College, called the survey results “heartbreaking and disturbing.”
“A single instance is one too many,” she said. “What’s clear is more needs to be done.”
Park told The Oshawa Express there is even more data that exists, but the government needs to work with the Information and Privacy Commissioner before releasing it.
Oshawa NDP MPP Jennifer French said it is “really alarming to imagine that a high percentage of people who are pursuing education are having to learn awful things like how to cope with sexual assault and harassment.”
“Certainly we need to ensure that anyone who is pursuing education is safe to do that.”
However, while appreciating the government taking some action, French doesn’t think it is an adequate response.
She says school campuses are not “islands,” and those who have experienced and survived harassment or violence often seek resources in the “broader community.”
French says the PCs have “withheld” funding for rape crisis centres, which she believes is “making things worse for survivors.”
“I think everyone is sincere in their shock at the high numbers and recognizing the prevalence and need for a plan, but it has to extend beyond campus,” French said.
However, Park said she and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney have fought to maintain funding for rape crisis centres steady during a “time of fiscal restraint.”
Officials from both schools said they already have numerous policies and programs in place to address this situation, but improvement is always needed.
“We are committed as always to creating a safe environment. We are very concerned with the results, and increasing our resolve to address this issue on campus,” said Olivia Petrie, assistant VP of student life at UOIT.
Petrie said addressing sexual violence and harassment has been a key priority over the past year.
Specific actions include the establishment of an advisory committee and a revised policy on sexual violence.
“We spent a lot of time getting feedback from students,” Petrie added.
She believes the measures announced by the government create “just a lot of room to do more and reach more students, and help them understand the issues around sexual violence and the type of supports that are around them.”
Allison Hector-Alexander, director, office of diversity, inclusion, and transitions at Durham said the institution is aware there are some issues to address.
However, Hector-Alexander was pleased the survey indicated a high number of students have a piece of good knowledge in terms of consent and are aware of the resources available to them.
Durham officials had already been looking ahead to revise the college’s policy on sexual violence even before the survey was released.
“We are in a good position,” Hector-Alexander told The Oshawa Express.
There are numerous resources available for campus, and Durham has hosted events such as Kiss with Consent, which raised awareness around consent.
All incoming students must complete an online sexual violence module, and there is also online and face-to-face training with faculty and other staff.
Having a formalized task force will bring a “different lens and perspectives to the table,” Hector-Alexander says, especially from the student’s vantage point.
“To have the data to really tell us what they are thinking, it helps me look at what other avenues we have to pursue,” she said.
Both Petrie and Hector-Alexander noted they have very good relationships with off-campus organizations and agencies that provide support to those who experience sexual violence and harassment.
“We are a small replica of the larger community…especially in this office, those relationships are really important,” Hector-Alexander said.
“We have a great relationship with the Durham Rape Crisis Centre,” Petrie says, noting the centre is presented to students as a support resource in the community.