Dear Gender Studies students, staff and faculty,
Queen’s University homecoming weekend was, once again, scattered with misogynist signs that explicitly targeted women. As the week begins, students on campus must sit in classes and tutorials next to colleagues who may have written misogynist signs on bedsheets and hung them around the university district. While these signs targeted young women, we know too well that trans, queer and non-binary students are also subject to sexual assault and sexual harassment during homecoming weekend. At Queen’s University this is a decades-long "tradition," one that is punctuated at the homecoming celebrations, yet pointing to similar events that emerge in other times and spaces: the bedsheets that are hung out of windows and include threatening and misogynist language are paired with actual sexual assaults and sexual violence, as well as racist and sexist parties that continue throughout the school year.
According to the sexual assault center statistics, one in four Queen’s students are sexually assaulted during their tenure as a student. Sexual violence on this campus is, in fact, a part of our campus culture—it is normalized. Many faculty members have been resisting this violence for decades, while the administration continues to let young men do what they want (they are never expelled, they are never charged with inciting violence, and because sexual assault is often left unreported, for all sorts of reasons, many women who experience sexual violence are left without any support systems). The over-policing at homecoming glosses over these acts of misogyny—the party is patrolled, some partygoers are warned and/or arrested, but sexual violence and threats to women are passed over. In short, the signs displaying hate are not considered violent.
The display of these signs is not just a matter of “misconduct” on the part of specific individuals—hundreds of students walked past these signs and let them stand, demonstrating that sexual violence is, in fact, embedded into the university landscape. This is not misconduct; any investigation that focuses on individual or one-time wrongdoing, rather than the deeper problem of normalized sexual violence, is not effective. We must work harder to draw attention to what normalized sexual violence looks like in Kingston and at Queen’s, and the university administration must develop, sustain, and act on, practices that attend to safe education as part of our institution’s human rights agenda. We must develop assessment tools that measure how effectively we are providing this safe education (on and off campus). We must advocate for need anonymous surveys of all students, so we know the degree to which they have found their Queen’s education unsafe. We need to continue these surveys annually, so we hear directly from the students what is and is not working, where we are improving and where the conditions are increasingly unsafe for them. We need these surveys to also address how identities of race, Indigeneity, queer, trans and/or dis/ability affect which students are targeted for violence. We need to work with the experts at the Kingston Sexual Assault Crisis Centre and those who have experienced Queen’s rape culture to develop effective tools to dramatically challenge and change this rape culture. More specifically, the aforementioned surveys must be developed in consultation with community members, students, and faculty who have experience in these areas. We must also recognize that surveys will not capture all instances of sexual violence, and that the narratives and data will only provide a small sample of student experiences. We need to, therefore, expand how we understand sexual violence, and notice that it is both spoken and unspoken. We must show our women students and other marginalized communities that we are listening, that we care, and that we will work hard to create a culture where it is safe for everyone to learn and to thrive.
It is important for us to also be clear that police and policing are not the answer to rape culture on campus. The police treatment of victims of sexual violence has been well documented and includes the myriad ways they often protect assailants and disrespect victims. As well, assaults by the police are underreported and they disproportionately enact violence against Black, Indigenous, and poor communities. We strongly believe that, at the institutional level, we need alternatives to policing, which means we must work to rethink how we approach safety. This might include alternative infrastructures and networks that focus on survivors and opportunities to heal (what survivors need), as well as community (rather than individual) accountability for harm.
We will take to the Queen’s administration our recommendations and any others that come forward from you. Meanwhile, Acting Head Susan Lord will provide open office hours on Zoom for anyone who might need to talk this through.
Dear Gender Studies students, staff and faculty,