Addressing sexual violence in the classroom

Following the discovery of another sexist banner during homecoming weekend in October 2021, the Centre for Teaching and Learning published the following statement. Following the statement, readers will find resources to support those who disclose, strategies for speaking out against gender-based sexual violence, and Queen’s based supports.
The Centre for Teaching and Learning and its members unequivocally affirm “the right of all members of the University to enjoy a living, learning and working environment that is free from fear, intimidation and anxiety” (as expressed by Principal Dean, 2021).
Misogynistic language during this year’s Homecoming events is coupled with sexual assaults, sexual and racial violence on campus that occur against women, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming students throughout the year. We stand with the University community against “problematic and violent assumptions being made about gender” (2021) and call for increased resources and actions that will enable the instructional community to meaningfully engage with these issues, including decolonizing our curricula and teaching practices from ongoing misogynistic, colonial harm.

For all those in instructional positions – Instructors, Teaching Assistants, and Educational Support Professionals – this page outlines five possible actions, each matched to a selected resource that’s specific to supporting instructors to address sexual violence through teaching, learning, and classroom practices.  

You may be the first to hear about an occurrence of sexual violence from a student. You may be asked to provide the appropriate considerations/accommodations, make referrals, or otherwise support a student in need. Familiarize yourself with the most recent versions of policies and procedures with application across the University on matters of sexual violence involving Queen's University students.
Select Resources: Responding to Student Disclosures of Sexual Violence: A Guide for Faculty, Staff, and Teaching Assistants, Queen’s University Human Rights & Equity Office
For more, connect with the Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Service.

Instructors often feel it important to speak out about and address discomforting events occurring within the broader campus community with their classes. Instead of jumping right into the course content, many feel the need to say something. 

At times like these, we learn from one another. Sharing her approach after crowdsourcing from instructors across the post-secondary community*, Dr. Nicole Campbell (Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences, Western University) outlines the steps she recently took in speaking with her students about gender-based sexual violence on her campus: 

  1. I posted on the forum that I would be talking about what happened in class and I gave a content warning.
  2. I reminded people they could join virtually if they didn’t want to come to campus.  
  3. At start of class, I reminded them I would be addressing the topic.
  4. I started by mentioning it is a difficult conversation, but a necessary one.  
  5. I explained to them why I was choosing to speak up. I said it impacted me as a woman/mother/human and that we need to engage in conversations to see change.
  6. I also talked about how trauma directly impacts academics and that we need to approach education from trauma-informed lens now more than ever.  
  7. I made my role as an academic clear and that I am not a counselor, but that I care and can direct to support.
  8. I emphasized that I do play a role in their academics and that if they needed flexibility, I could provide it, no questions asked and without revealing anything.  
  9. I posted campus and community support resources.   
  10. I prepared what I was going to say, but didn’t script it.

*Dr. Campbell wishes to acknowledge the contributions of a wide community of post-secondary instructors who shared their insights with her, resulting in the approach she shared back to the community on Twitter.

Know your Self—Know your Limits

As suggested above, speaking up against gender-based sexual violence can be a difficult topic to address in class, and like Dr. Nicole Campbell, we recommend you prepare yourself for discussing the topic with your students by asking yourself the following questions :

  • Am I ready to talk about gender-based sexual violence, even if/when it becomes uncomfortable for myself and/or others?
  • Do I know enough about key themes to be able to answer questions or lean into difficult conversations raised by students?
  • Who are the key people in my office/life/community/university I can brainstorm ideas with?  
  • What will I do not to reproduce harm or violence?
  • What will I do in the face of resistance?

Rather than discouraging you to engage and speak up against this topic, the questions above seek to help you prepare for different eventualities. If you need support, or would like to discuss strategies, please contact Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, Barb Lotan, Community Outreach and Student Support Worker, Rebecca Rapperport, or Educational Developer Anti-Racism & Inclusion, Yasmine Djerbal.

“You have an incalculable influence on your students in your daily life as a mentor, role model and teacher” (Edwards, 2014, pg. 3). Help raise awareness by creating a culture that does not tolerate violence and expects everyone to do their part - through your words and actions on campus and in the classroom. 

Pages 3 and 4 of the Edwards Faculty Toolkit offer a range of ideas for raising awareness, including:

  • How to have conversations with your class, students, colleagues, and friends
  • How to make a course policy focused on accountability, safe space, and no tolerance for violence  
  • How to incorporate your stance and how to elevate support resources through daily work activities

Further, check out pages 4 and 5 on strategies for being a positive bystander. ‘Violence’ often manifests in less obvious ways in the classroom, such as through comments, jokes and non-verbal behaviour. In these moments, instructors are the bystander with an opportunity to directly address the situation and/or delegate a response that guides students towards resources.

Select Resource: Faculty Toolkit for supporting efforts on campus to address sexual violence & dating violence by Dorothy J. Edwards (2014), University of Wyoming,

As part of your actions and commitment to others, ensure students, colleagues, staff, and faculty know about the number of resources in place at Queen’s for students who have been affected by sexual violence, including Student Wellness Services, the Human Rights and Equity Office, and the AMS Peer Support Centre.
Any student in need of support is encouraged to contact Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, Barb Lotan, at  
For free 24/7 crisis support, students can also turn to Empower Me and Good2Talk. Faculty and staff can contact the HR Intranet: Employee and Family Assistance Program.

Learn more on the Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response website.

Commit to reading Queen’s Policy Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students and the FAQs of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services.  
Engage in the Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence on University and College Campuses in Ontario learning program that provides general information about sexual violence and how to support students who have experienced sexual violence.
Refer students, faculty, and staff to the learning program, It Takes All of Us developed by the Queen’s Sexual Violence and Prevention Response Service.