As executive members of UBC’s Teaching Assistants union, CUPE Local 2278, we feel compelled to speak up about the alarming increase in sexual assaults on campus and the community conversations surrounding the fallout from the Sauder rape chant incident. As part of our executive mandate to pursue equality on campus, it is our responsibility to confront any environment that renders women vulnerable to sexual assault or allows attitudes diminishing the gravity of such threats to flourish.
We believe that the failure to address any perceived danger to an individual, a recognized group or select members of our campus community is a collective failure—not an individual one. Therefore, we believe that the recent string of sexual assaults on campus clearly illustrate that as a community, we have to some extent failed to maintain a safe and secure space for our students, staff and faculty—particularly women and others vulnerable to sexual assault—to live, work and study.
So, we applaud the efforts on the part of the Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS) executive to pledge $250,000 toward sexual assault awareness training and counselling for its student body. Like them, we were extremely disappointed to learn that Sauder undergraduates emphatically voted down the initiative. Many reasons were shared publicly for this defeat—some bureaucratic, some ideological—but we hope that this failure to make good on the lessons learned from the rape chant incident is a lesson to all stakeholders at Sauder and elsewhere on campus, including the Dean’s office, that rape culture is not a problem for which you can offload responsibility onto student organizations, but a crisis of community in which we all are implicated and in which we all bear responsibility to repair.
We are heartened, then, by the Dean of Sauder School of Business’s announcement that the school will move forward with the Counselling position even if it needs to bear the full cost of the program irrespective of the referendum’s disappointing outcome. But we hope it’s clear that the incongruity between the Dean’s office’s position and that of his undergrads indicates that UBC students, staff, faculty and administration failed to take full responsibility for propagating a culture which implicitly (and at times explicitly) condones or diminishes rape. It is astonishing to us that at the same time UBC makes headlines nationwide for a sexual predator on campus, 70 per cent of participants in the Sauder referendum vote down measures that would make their school safer for women—and fail to see the connection between these two incidents.
We were further dismayed that The Ubyssey, despite their excellent work in making these stories public with the utmost attention to ethical reporting, published an editorial that appears to blame campus feminists for the failure of their brave actions to effect observable change. We stand in solidarity with feminists on campus who try, against popular opinion, to make UBC a safer and more equitable university. We are baffled by arguments rooted in privilege which take issue with the way women choose to make their world better; as if Sauder would have welcomed sexual assault counselling had UBC feminists simply been nicer.
We make this statement not to point fingers, but to request all UBC stakeholders take seriously the prevalence of sexual assault and rape culture on our campus at every level. We asked our members to report on any environmental issues which made them feel unsafe—unlocked doors, broken or insufficient lighting, etc.—and the response has already been overwhelming. Our colleagues at CUPE 116 and AMS Security have been working extremely hard to keep students safe in the wake of these attacks, but more needs to be done.
We ask that all members of the UBC Community, acknowledge that campus safety, primarily that of women and others vulnerable to sexual assault, is a priority—and one that cannot be secured through closed circuit television, but from registering that a campus free of sexual violence begins with us.
Executive of The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 2278