TRAC members demonstrate against sexual harassment at Concordia
Lecturers and academic staff draw attention to the topic on International Women’s Day
To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, Concordia teaching and research assistants gathered in front of the Nathan Bethune statue on Tuesday, March 8, to protest sexual harassment at Concordia University.
At the protest, some 40 teaching and research assistants and their allies marched down De Maisonneuve Boulevard on Sir George Williams’ campus, carrying signs reading ‘Misguided complaints = angry TAs’ and ‘How many allegations do you need?’.
Concordia has failed to adequately handle allegations of sexual harassment over the years, according to TRAC members.
“Concordia has a long history of not adequately addressing when students or staff have been sexually harassed by their supervisors or peers,” said Mya Walmsley, a first-year masters in philosophy at Concordia.
This particular rally was directly related to a campaign within the philosophy department in which a large majority of teaching and research assistants refused to work for an unnamed professor against whom multiple sexual harassment complaints had been filed. Late last year, over 250 teaching and research assistants signed a petition urging the school to adopt “a transparent student, survivor and staff accountability process” to better address sexual harassment issues within the facility, according to TRAC.
“The importance of this campaign, launched by members of the Philosophy Department, cannot be overstated,” said Bree Stuart, President of TRAC. “TRAC is actively committing resources to addressing sexual harassment on campus and hopes to change the Concordia rules and laws to create a safer space for everyone on campus.”
A safe space is badly needed as they don’t feel the faculty has their back, according to teaching assistants at the arts faculty.
“It created distrust in our department,” said Nelson Graves, a first-year master’s philosophy student. “It was hard to feel connected to faculty members when you’re around someone like him.”
The current investigative process leaves the complainant largely in the dark without focusing on the concerns and safety of the survivors. Instead, the accused faculty and colleagues are often able to continue their work without apparent disciplinary action.
“Concordia has a long history of not responding appropriately when students or employees have been sexually harassed by their supervisors or colleagues.”
– Mya Walmsley
“We’re hoping for more student-led processes and more transparent processes, as well as institutional changes,” Graves said. “I don’t think we as students should be tasked with dealing with all of this.”
According to Walmsley, for new masters students in the philosophy program, learning that a professor they may be working with has this history of allegations of sexual harassment creates an unfriendly environment.
“It was a very scary introduction [to the university]said Walmsley, who moved to Montreal from Australia to get her degree. “You feel small, you feel scared, especially when you’re in a country you’ve never been to and you already feel threatened.”
But these problems aren’t just limited to the philosophy department — complaints from the creative writing and English programs have also been swept under the rug, dating back to the ’90s.
“If you go to Google and type in Concordia sexual harassment, so much comes from so many different departments,” Graves said.
Between 2012 and 2018, six former Concordia students filed complaints with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, saying the university is not adequately addressing those allegations.
Walmsley pointed out that while TAs are students, they are also teachers and workers within the school, making this both a labor issue and a student rights issue.
International Women’s Day is historically associated with the labor movement and the women’s movement, having emerged from the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century. While the day is designed to highlight the achievements of women, it has always been a day to address the many injustices women in the workforce continue to face.
People of any gender can experience sexual harassment in the workplace, but more often than not, it is women who carry the burden. One in four women has experienced sexual harassment at work, according to a Statistics Canada report.
That’s why TRAC decided that this year’s International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to bring this issue to the fore. Although this is the first year the rally has been held on International Women’s Day, Walmsley said it could become an annual event if Concordia continues to inadequately handle sexual harassment complaints.
“Even though it’s not public, it’s happening across the university,” Walmsley said. “People don’t feel like they have the power to stand up.”
Walmsley said this year’s cohort decided enough was enough. The academic staff of the philosophy department wanted to take matters into their own hands by banning the accused professor from working and refusing to cooperate. They hope that the university will take this action as an opportunity to take these concerns seriously.
Walmsley and Graves both said they had not yet received an official response from the Concordia faculty on the matter.
“We wanted to show the university administration that we’re going to fight not just in our department and not just against sexual harassment, but against all forms of oppression within the university,” Walmsley said. “We will use our power as workers to fight.”