With sexual assault and nation-wide apathy towards survivors facing students on university campuses across the country, the University of Saskatchewan is taking steps to change the general outlook.
On Sept. 26, the U of S launched the REACT to Sexual Assault campaign, a new sexual assault policy and an updated USafe app. With this campaign, the U of S Students’ Union, Campus Protective Services and various organizations on campus and in Saskatoon are aiming to provide support for students and effect positive change.
“See something, say something” is the attitude that the USSU and partners are fostering across campus. Renata Huyghebaert, USSU vice-president student affairs, believes that a safe and healthy environment requires collective co-operation.
“I think it’s a very important culture shift. We’re being a very strong example in Canada and I think what is so unique is that it’s not just students and it’s not just coming from administration, it’s really coming from voices across campus, and I think that is what makes this really powerful,” Huyghebaert said.
The REACT campaign addresses rising concerns that too many sexual assaults go unreported. A survey carried out by the CBC in 2015 found that there are often discrepancies between the number of sexual assaults that occur on Canadian campuses and the amount of sexual assaults actually on record. Canadian universities are not required to publicize the number of sexual assaults reported in a given time. For some, this is especially concerning and leads to questions of accountability and transparency.
Huyghebaert hopes that the REACT campaign will demonstrate that the U of S is taking the issue seriously.
“In the past, anywhere across the country, survivors have been shut out or not heard. I think it’s so important that we’re saying that we’re listening. [This campaign] is about survivors — we believe that it’s our job as a community to support them,” Huyghebaert said.
The new sexual assault policy and USafe app will provide students with educational material and the resources needed to deal with sexual assault. Huyghebaert says that these initiatives will equip students with the tools to stop sexual assault even before it has a chance to happen.
“I think it’s everyone’s job to get out there and be a part of this education, and if you don’t know something, to go and read these resources or go and talk to someone about it — our door is very much open,” Huyghebaert said.
Emmanauel Barker, USSU vice-president operations and finance, has been a part of the development of the newly updated USafe app since the beginning of his term in the spring of 2016. He explains that the app has many features for student safety, including the virtual Safewalk, a development on the already existing Safewalk program, which allows others to virtually check in on your whereabouts.
“[The Usafe app] connects services from the USSU like Safewalk, includes all of the contact information from the [USSU] Centres, highlights policies and procedures and it also connects you to emergency services, Campus Protective Services and it has things like the virtual Safewalk which you just wouldn’t get any other way,” Barker said.
Huyghebaert believes the U of S has been a pioneer in sexual assault awareness in the past, and hopes that the university will continue to be an example for other Canadian institutions.
“Sexual assault work has been going on here for years. We’ve had a Women’s Centre on campus since the 70s. Even though the REACT campaign is new, the sentiment has been going on and we’ve always been fighting for this and it’s always been important,” Huyghebaert said.
At their core, Huyghebaert says, these efforts by the U of S show that the institution is serious about sexual assault and working to change the source of the problem.
“There’s really a focus on changing the stigma, and it’s allowing us to let the campus community know that survivors will be believed and there will be support for those who have been sexually assaulted who chose to come forward,” Huyghebaert said. “We want to spread the message that it is safe to do so.”
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor