Dean's Message on Sexual Violence 2021

Dear Colleagues,

The University of Alberta is committed to building a culture of consent free from sexual violence. As part of this campus-wide effort, the University just launched a newly redesigned website to support survivors of sexual assault and violence in our community with information and resources.

The website is an essential tool for members of the University of Alberta to combat a Canada-wide concern. In September 2020, Statistics Canada released this report on unwanted sexualized behaviour and sexual assault experienced by students at post-secondary institutions. This report underscores the pervasiveness of the problem, with 71% of students indicating that they had witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours and 11% of women students reporting that they had experienced sexual assault in a post-secondary setting during the previous year. Such statistics have prompted universities across this country to transform their processes with the goal of better and more effective interventions. Dean of Students André Costopoulos spoke about some of these in his February 2021 post in The Quad.

While some might be inclined to think that remote working and learning has lessened the seriousness of this problem, exactly the opposite is true. Incidences of gender-based and sexual violence have increased during the conditions of the pandemic, including in remote environments where participants in meetings or classes are made vulnerable to many forms of online harassment.

In the Faculty of Arts, we are committed to building a zero tolerance culture. As Interim Dean, I am strongly committed to continuing the work begun by our previous Dean Lesley Cormack. Over the past academic year, Arts established a Sexual Violence Policy Implementation Committee under the leadership of Lise Gotell, Landrex Distinguished Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies. We rolled out new training on responding to disclosures. Working with the University of Alberta’s Sexual Assault Centre, we also took steps to make Bystander Training available for our undergraduate and graduate students. Bystander programs engage community members by challenging the acceptability of sexual violence and by helping participants to identify situations and to respond constructively.

This academic year, the Arts Sexual Violence Policy Implementation Committee, composed of administrators, faculty, and student representatives, has continued this work. Collaboratively with the Dean of Students, the committee has developed a flowchart on Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence. This is a tool that can be used by instructors, staff, and supervisors to help connect survivors with the resources they need. Further, we have designated people who will receive advanced training on responding to disclosures and who will act as advisors to departments and units. We have also established key Dean’s office contacts who will be able to provide advice and support. Through these steps, we wish to put in place clear procedures that will ensure that those affected by sexual violence will feel comfortable in seeking help and accommodation and those receiving disclosures feel supported.

We know that there is much more work that we need to do in order to effectively address the serious problem of sexual violence. As Arts instructors, researchers, staff, and administrators, we all have a role to play in addressing sexual violence. I would encourage you to read the Sexual Violence Policy and to consult the University’s Sexual Violence Information and Resources webpage. The University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, well-known for its longstanding leadership and advocacy, provides prevention education and support for students, faculty and staff. As you plan future courses, I’d urge you allocate 50 or 80 minutes of class time for the Centre’s interactive awareness workshop on sexual assault.

If you have questions or input for the Arts Sexual Violence Policy Implementation Committee, please reach out through artsdean@ualberta.ca.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Steve Patten
Interim Dean