By Annie Arnone and Noushin Ziafati
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is proposing amendments to be made to the union’s sexual harassment policy in light of a controversial sexual assault claim made against an executive from the York Federation of Students (YFS).
Earlier this year, a York University student alleged that they were sexually assaulted by YFS vice-president campaigns & advocacy. Students pushed for him to resign by campaigning around campus.
The member was not removed from their YFS position, but resigned months after the allegation.
According to York’s campus newspaper Excalibur, 350 posters were put up around the university by the survivor as part of “Stand with Survivors: Hold YFS Accountable”—a campaign launched after the allegations became public. The next day, all posters were taken down.
In response to the claims at York, RSU vice-president equity Camryn Harlick wants to ensure that the RSU would be prepared in the event of a similar case.
“I’d like to have a policy and just be prepared if it does happen so that when it does, we can make sure we are believing survivors and protecting students as much as we should be,” said Harlick.
Currently the RSU policy manual states that the student union should be free from “sexual assault and all other forms of violence; and the right to an educational environment free of sexual harassment.”
Harlick, in collaboration with Corey Scott, the RSU equity & campaigns organiser, said that they want to firm up the language they use, making the policy less “vague.”
The RSU policy on workplace violence and harassment, which includes sexual harassment, states that “if the students’ union is aware that an individual or individuals with histories of violent behaviour is frequenting the workplace, harassing staff, or physically/emotionally assaulting employees, every reasonable precaution will be taken to minimize their interaction with staff and a protocol will be put in place to direct employees and management on how to intervene if the individual becomes aggressive.”
While Harlick is still working out the logistics of their amendment proposal, they hope that the policy will work one of two ways—the accused would immediately be completely removed from office, or a rule would be imposed where they cannot return until a full investigation takes place.
“As of right now, there’s nothing [that’s] 100 per cent necessary that would make sure that person is removed from office and I wouldn’t want an executive or a board member [in office] who has sexually assaulted or [took part in] an act of sexual violence against a student; they shouldn’t be able to hold the role in the institution at all.”
RSU president Susanne Nyaga said she is on board with Harlick’s proposal and agrees the current policy isn’t up to standard.
“There’s a lot of vagueness within our sexual harassment [and] sexual assault policy, it’s not really clear on how board members or execs fit within it,” said Nyaga.
She added that it’s important for board members to believe survivors. “We need to take more of a stance where we’re taking the side of the survivor,” said Nyaga. “We need to put more safety provisions in for the survivor, and not the person who’s being accused.”
Removing the accused from office is necessary, she said, and once an individual is harmed in the workplace, they cannot comfortably remain in a “hostile” environment.
Nyaga wants the board to be as open as possible when handling sexual assault claims.
All policies need to be approved at a board level on the RSU, meaning Harlick will have to get two-thirds of approval from board members after putting forward a motion to instill these changes.
“If you’re going to put forward policy amendments, you need to bring them to the board at least a week before the meeting, and then it needs to be discussed and passed with majority vote,” said Nyaga.
The next RSU Board of Directors meeting will take place on Nov. 23. Although Harlick does not know whether the motion will be ready by then, they hope to introduce the revised policy by the end of the semester.