The experiences of sexual violence as shared by current and former members of the University and reported by Al Jazeera are deeply distressing and troubling to all of us as a community. All those who have come forward have demonstrated real courage in choosing to speak about their experiences.
Let me be clear: sexual violence – indeed sexual harassment of any kind – has absolutely no place at the University of Toronto. I want you to know that, as President of the University, I am committed to working with our community to bring about the necessary change in this area.
Before saying anything else, I want to encourage any member of the U of T community who has been affected by sexual harassment or violence to seek support from the University’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre. If you choose to come forward, you will be doing so in a trauma-informed space, confidentially, protected from reprisal, and your concerns will be treated with the utmost seriousness.
Since the events described in this media report, the University has developed a new Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment. It came into effect in 2017 and applies to all students, staff, faculty, and librarians. Our tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre was established specifically to provide support, guidance and protection to survivors, as well as helping to support culture change through community education.
While we have worked hard to make our policies robust, we acknowledge that there is more that needs to be done – given the particular dynamics at play in higher education settings.
The University recently launched a periodic review of the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment. Professor Linda Johnston, Dean of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, and Allison Burgess, Director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, are co-chairing the consultation that will help inform this review. Students, staff, faculty, and librarians will have opportunities to share their views through a combination of online and in-person consultations. I have asked that they make every effort to include input from survivors, and that they ensure tri-campus and college engagement with this review.
The University of Toronto commits to building the best systems and practices to protect all members of our community from sexual violence, to support survivors, and to foster a culture of consent, accountability, and respect. Given the importance of this Policy review, I have asked that this review address four specific questions pertaining to the University’s sexual violence policies and practices:
- What are the best practices to address the barriers to reporting and to provide support for survivors?
- How do we appropriately account for power dynamics that are inherent in institutions of higher learning?
- Given the importance of communication and transparency, what information can be shared with participants engaged in, and at the conclusion of, a sexual violence process while taking into account confidentiality, privacy obligations and a fair and effective process?
- Should the university sector develop a process for sharing information between institutions about findings of sexual violence misconduct by faculty members?
I want to assure members of our community – especially survivors – that I am according this issue the highest priority. I look forward to receiving the recommendations from our Policy review on how we might address any gaps in our current Policy, and how we can continue to foster a culture of consent, accountability and respect that is necessary for real change.
All members of the University community should have the ability to study, work, and live in a campus environment free from sexual violence, including sexual harassment. I pledge that the University of Toronto will do everything in its power to enhance our policies, and improve our systems and practices; to create an environment where survivors feel empowered to share their experiences and seek support; to build awareness; and to foster a culture of consent, accountability, and respect. That is the commitment I am making today.
I welcome any member of our community to reach out with your concerns, questions, or suggestions on how we can and must do better.
The Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre has also made extra support available for members of our community impacted by the current news around sexual violence. For more information, see: https://www.svpscentre.utoronto.ca/support/
Meric S. Gertler