Preparing for the next chapter in our efforts to address sexual and gender-based violence

An update from the U of A's Sexual Violence Response Coordinator.


In a matter of weeks, we’ll be welcoming new and returning students to our campuses. The work to ensure that they have a great start in a vibrant and supportive learning environment is well underway. From Orientation preparations to lesson planning and everything in between, faculty and staff (and yes, even students themselves) have been doing the work needed to make sure the 2022/23 academic year will be a successful one. Included in this mix are those of us who have been busy reviewing and preparing to strengthen our community’s approach to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The initiatives shared in my last update are progressing according to plan, and I’ve expanded my efforts with the help of students, leaders, faculty and staff from around the university.

The proposed revisions to the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Policy and the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Disclosures Procedure will be ready for this fall’s governance cycle at the end of this month. The proposed updates will add more trauma-informed language, structures and procedures; clarify and expand the ways the university can respond to disclosures; and provide further information on privacy and confidentiality. Additionally, I’ve consulted closely with students in the SU and GSA, as well as additional key units across the university, to overhaul the non-academic portions of the Code of Student Behaviour – the designated procedure for complaints of SGBV against students. The need to change these policies was echoed in an internal Sexual Violence Management Audit carried out over the 2022 Winter semester, which reinforces that our current efforts are on the right track.

If approved through governance, these policy changes will better align our efforts to address sexual and gender-based violence with the best practices identified by Courage to Act. These proposed changes also address the actions that the Government of Alberta asked all of Alberta’s post-secondaries to implement by November of this year as a means to providing more consistency in how schools across the province approach sexual and gender-based violence.

One of the more significant changes in the proposed policy changes is the creation of the Options Navigation Network (ONN). (You may have heard me previously refer to this future group as the Disclosure Support Network.) Staff in ONN units will receive advanced training related to disclosures and complaint processes – all with an emphasis on supporting those affected by SGBV with a trauma-informed lens. Members of this group will be equipped to clearly explain university services and processes, and assist those who have been subjected to SGBV to understand and navigate their options. The network is tentatively set to launch in November.

In June I hosted the first meeting of the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Advisory Council. The council is made up of students, staff and faculty representatives from across all U of A campuses. Members represent the many different perspectives that we need to think about when we consider how best to respond to SGBV, from regulatory compliance to infusing trauma-informed practice into all of our work. The Advisory Council will be instrumental in guiding and refining strategies to address SGBV, identifying current or emerging trends, collecting and reporting data, and advising on new initiatives and future policy updates. It was gratifying and heartwarming to be in the presence of so many people dedicated to addressing and preventing SGBV, and I’m hopeful that together we can create a collaborative and mutually supportive community. 

Since that first meeting, the network of individuals working on SGBV initiatives has continued to grow. Within my own office, I am grateful to be joined by two Graduate Research Assistants: 

  • Kelsey Friesen is working on developing the necessary resources for the Options Navigation Network. She has significant experience as a student advocate and, as an undergraduate student, contributed to the excellent SV prevention and response efforts at MacEwan University. 
  • Sajad Soleimani Yazdi is working with me on coordinating education for the university community and the mandatory training required in policy. His research on the experience of marginalized peoples, particularly the 2S/LGBTQPAI+ Muslim life stories, brings an intersectional and ethics-based lens to this work. 

Our work alone can’t prevent sexual and gender-based violence. Every individual, regardless of position, role, activity or function in the university, can contribute to that vibrant and supportive learning environment promised in our mission statement by committing to and working toward a culture of consent and gender-inclusivity. As these initiatives develop, I will provide more information on how you can participate. I hope you’ll join me in those efforts this fall. 

Learn more about sexual and gender-based violence prevention and response at the U of A.

About Deb

Deb Eerkes is the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator, seconded from her previous position as Director of Student Conduct and Accountability. In addition to her work as one of the University Discipline Officers, she initiated the university's academic integrity program and designed the restorative justice approach currently used in the residence system. Her work in sexual violence includes co-charing a review of the University of Alberta’s response to sexual assault, leading the development of the University’s Sexual Violence Policy Suite, and co-chairing a working group examining the use of restorative justice in the context of sexual violence at the University of Alberta. She is also the co-lead for the Reporting, Investigation & Adjudication working group for Courage to Act, a multi-year national initiative to address and prevent gender-based violence on post-secondary campuses in Canada, and a co-author of A Comprehensive Guide to Campus Gender-Based Violence Complaints.