OUTA Reflections: Prof Chris Linder’s Keynote Address, Part 3

Professor Chris Linder’s Reflections to Colleges & Universities Engaging in Sexual Violence Prevention Work, Part 3

Thoughts from the Ontario Universities Taking Action Against Sexual Violence (OUTA) Conference in Kingston, ON

This is Part 3 of a three-part blog series. Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Over the past few weeks, we have explored how post-secondary institutions currently do work around sexual violence and the historical roots of that sexual violence. We’ve also discussed the implications of the racist and colonialist root causes of sexual violence for the prevention of sexual violence on campus.

Now, with this information in mind, we can share Professor Chris Linder’s four recommendations to universities and colleges preparing sexual violence prevention strategies as the academic year kicks into high gear.

Consider policy and compliance a floor, not a ceiling

Professor Chris Linder believes that having a thorough and survivor-centric stand-alone sexual assault policy should be a minimum requirement for addressing sexual violence on campus. Though colleges and universities should not limit their strategy to developing a policy, they should ensure that the policies created respond to students’ needs. Colleges and universities should ensure that the people involved in policy-development reflect the diversity of their campus. Who are the campus stakeholders present around the table? Professor Linder encourages everyone to think outside the broad categories of students, faculty and staff to include people of diverse experiences and backgrounds that will lend a nuanced and more accurate understanding of how sexual violence plays out on campus.

The bottom line, though, is that colleges and universities should also focus their energies on prevention and changing campus culture as a whole instead of solely concentrating on policy-development.

Examine ways to work outside legal accountability systems

Recognizing that there are other ways to seek justice than through the legal system, Professor Chris Linder encourages colleges and universities to being open to other models of accountability.

An example of such an approach was demonstrated by the work of the Anti-Violence Project at the University of Victoria. This project uses multiple ways of addressing sexual violence and its consequences, not only by recognizing the limitations of the current system and supporting people to navigate through and make empowered choices about their course of action, but also through:

work[ing] with people who have caused harm and are seeking to make reparations, become informed and change their harmful behaviour, as part of our work towards ending violence by working with people who have committed violence

Other examples exist, and colleges and universities should not hesitate to develop new and campus-specific ways to hold perpetrators accountable while always using a survivor-centric lense.

Use caution in over-professionalizing our work

Another tip that Professor Linder wants to share with colleges and universities is to ask the question: when developing a sexual violence prevention strategy on campus, who are the experts that we should be consulting? The answer is: students. They are the ones that experience sexual violence on a daily basis and that have had to develop mechanisms to deal with it over the years. By confining these conversations with the people who are typically referred to as “experts” such as academics and faculty that do research on this topic, we are doing a grave disservice to the folks who disproportionality experience violence on campus. Also, activists and community agencies have been doing this work for decades; their voices need to be present in the conversations.

Educate yourself and your colleagues

Finally, Professor Chris Linder believes that it is important for all of us to educate ourselves and our colleagues about the power-centered, intersectional approach to sexual violence. Colleges and universities should be vocal about the racism inherent in approaches to addressing sexual violence. It might be scary to acknowledge it, but by doing so, we are opening the door to improvements. Professor Linder encourages colleges and universities to be explicit about power and identity in sexual violence prevention; to move away from a one size-fits-all approach that benefits certain individuals over others because of imbalances of power. She also suggests learning words that are accessible, in order to reach out to the people who might need it the most (community partners are often well-versed in plain language, reach out to METRAC if you need help!). Most importantly, though, is this: engage in intersectional activism. Learn what it takes to recognize privilege, and use it to leverage power so that the voices of the most oppressed through unequal power systems are put at the forefront of the fight against sexual violence. Listen. Be present. And believe.

Thank you again to Professor Chris Linder for sharing her experience and her thoughts with the Ontario Universities Taking Action Conference, and we hope this short blog post series has stirred reflections for the upcoming academic year.

To work with METRAC to develop strategies to prevent sexual violence on campus, reach out to Gabrielle Ross-Marquette, Communications Coordinator, at communication@metrac.org.