A University of Saskatchewan research team is exploring institutional responses to sexual violence on Canadian campuses through the Campus Sexual Violence Project.
The two-phase project includes virtual interactive theatre performances by volunteer faculty with student participants and a set of workshop discussions based on the narratives collected from the performances.
Elizabeth Quinlan, an associate professor in the department of sociology and principal investigator, says that the project will help inform policies meant to reduce sexual violence on campus.
“The focus of this research project is how our institutions respond to the problem [of sexual violence], and perhaps even more importantly, how we can change the response to one that is more human and more responsible,” Quinlan said.
According to a report from the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, the majority of students who experienced sexual assault on campus did not report the incident, with many citing mistrust in how the university would handle the situation.
Despite statistics suggesting that on-campus sexual violence is a problem, Quinlan says that it can be difficult to generate change surrounding sexual violence because it is often ignored.
“We’ve seen that, too often, the disclosures of sexual violence are either dismissed or downplayed, all for the sake of protecting the university’s reputation,” Quinlan said.
While Quinlan believes that making change is difficult, it has not stopped her research team from trying to address these issues.
The Campus Sexual Violence Project is an extension of her 2017 book titled Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities: Activism, Institutional Responses, and Strategies for Change, which she co-wrote with Andrea Quinlan from the University of Waterloo and Curtis Fogel from Brock University.
Both Andrea Quinlan and Fogel are also members of the research team. The book examines universities’ failures to properly address cases of sexual violence on campus and shares stories that explore attitudes toward rape culture and the inadequate responses to sexual violence.
With a solid foundation to guide their research, the team is now applying these stories to investigate ways for universities to improve their institutional responses through interactive theatre.
Endorsed by UNESCO, interactive theatre can be used as a tool to generate social change and involves performances whereby audience members influence dramatic action by more experienced actors. Interactive theatre techniques have been used in entertainment, training, education and simulation.
Quinlan hopes that these techniques will lead to conversations that will address the issue of sexual violence on Canadian campuses.
“We all have very powerful imaginations and creative energies, and when we come together in a safe place and apply those creative capacities that we all have, we can collectively solve very difficult problems … like sexual violence,” Quinlan said.
Using the narratives of the performances, Quinlan hopes to spark productive discussions and develop effective policies to address the lack of attention given to sexual violence by Canadian universities.
“We’re looking for the kinds of cracks and fissures in the structures [of institutions] that can seem quite unmovable, quite overwhelming and oppressive,” Quinlan said. “Those openings that can be made a little bit larger and give way to institutions that live up to their social responsibility of educating on important social issues like sexual violence.”