Simon Fraser University was never going to write the perfect policy on their first attempt.
There was a lot going right for the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Prevention, Education and Support Policy (SVMPESP) after the first draft was released on January 4. For an initial draft, it was a very motivating beginning after months of work. The team behind the policy released all the feedback they had received online, showing what people wanted to see from it.
Members of the advisory committee were also open about the process that went into creating the SVMPESP, showing a great response to the demands for transparency from the original town hall meetings in May of last year.
However, at the town hall meetings this week, members of the SFU community came armed with copies of the draft that they had edited extensively, worried about the language, the process of disclosure, and the currently named “Central Resource Office.” They raised concerns and questions for the entirety of the two hour meeting, and likely could have kept going on.
And this is a trend many see as encouraging.
Concerns over the policy
“It is, in fact, a draft,” said Elise Chenier, president of Academic Women at Simon Fraser University. “That’s the process. They are following exactly the procedures and steps that are proper to a university environment so everything is on the up and up.”
Chenier attended the town hall at the Burnaby campus, and raised concerns about how some parts of the SMVPESP draft need to be reworked so that they don’t damage the policy as a whole, including the Central Resource Office.
“In my view, the entire project is really undermined by the fact that this new [Central Resource Office] will not provide counseling services. If we are to go by [former vice-president academic and provost, Dr. Jonathan] Driver’s explanation, it says that they will coordinate existing services, and that’s a problem,” she explained.
She also brought up the adjudication policy and off-campus incidents, among other concerns.
With all the demands and inquiries, the tone could easily be misread as tense, especially from those who were watching a livestream of the town hall or attending via conference call from the Vancouver or Surrey campuses. In fact, a source told The Peak that “SFU admins here are like beet red” during the discussion, and that “Tension is clear. They’re holding back their words.”
Policy makers were hopeful for this kind of response
However, advisory committee member Kathleen Yang (who attended and live-tweeted all the events) found was impressed with the sessions being held this week.
“Those who showed up definitely came prepared and it was really great to see folks who clearly had a lot of expertise,” she said. “It is critically important to have a range of folks participate in this process as their participation is going to be crucial to ensure the success of this policy.”
“We are a research institution. If we didn’t have folks who were willing to give us an extensive, critical analysis, I’d be worried.”
This sentiment is shared by Dr. Driver, who was the host of the town hall on Tuesday.
“The town hall session, I would say, probably reflected people who had read the policy very closely, and wanted to propose some changes to the policy,” said Driver. “A lot of people pointed out that we could be clearer, we could use language that was more direct, so I think there’ll probably be some changes made.”
He said that the working group and advisory group who were in charge of creating the SMVPESP draft felt that the draft policy that they had crafted for the beginning of January is really close to what the university needs, and anticipates the final draft being approved at the March Board of Governors meeting.
“Everything I’ve heard so far suggests that we have actually covered fairly well the issues and concerns that people have wanted to raise,” he said, adding that the Board of Governors meeting will be open so that anyone can see what the final wording of the proposed policy will be.
For Chenier, seeing exactly what those comments were and the people who raised them meant a lot to her, as it did for many others involved with the university.
“I was so appreciative of hearing all that input. It was an amazing experience. It was really beautiful to see how much thought, care, [and] attention people put into reading it and offering their feedback. It was really extraordinary.”