WARNING: This article contains sexual and explicit language and may be triggering for some readers. Please read at your own discretion.
A Mount Allison University student says students are being silenced when reporting sexual violence on campus.
“I couldn’t believe it, I’ve seen this stuff in movies and I never believed it could happen in such a small-town university,” said Michelle Roy, a fifth-year student at MTA, who alleges the school granted an appeal in a sexual assault decision of the university’s judicial committee.
Roy tells Global News she’s spent the last five years lobbying for changes to the school’s procedures on reporting sexual violence.
According to the university website, its sexual assault centre assures “survivor-centred, trauma-informed culturally relevant and intersectional service.”
“When a Disclosure of sexual assault is made, the safety, security, and well-being of the survivor are fundamental considerations,” the policy reads.
However, Roy said this does not align with students’ experiences.
Roy said that in 2016, in her first year at the school, a man sexually harassed her. After telling a friend, Roy heard she was not the first to be harassed by him.
“Stories just start piling on that, like about a dozen stories. This guy’s gone further than sexually harassing, but sexually assaulting women and going as far as raping women,” Roy said.
At that point, Roy gathered several people who alleged the man assaulted them and went to the campus sexual assault centre, SHARE, to report him.
“We were basically coerced into writing an informal complaint,” Roy said.
With an informal complaint, Roy says there are barely any consequences for the person accused. “There’s no discipline … the person will usually just be given a consent class, which is really kind of useless,” she said.
Once classes ended for the summer, Roy said she received news that the man appealed that decision.
“The university just decided he was no longer guilty, so he was allowed back on campus,” she said. “That was the first story where I was completely flabbergasted,” she said.
After the incident, Roy started speaking out about the school’s conduct on sexual violence on campus and became a known advocate in the school.
“People just started coming to me and telling me their stories,” said Roy. “I started being the one to drive people to the hospital, I started being the one people call in the middle of the night when something happens,” she said.
“I started realizing that the university really did nothing at all, and that people trusted me more than the university.”
Roy said that for five years, she has been trying to draw attention to the issue by speaking to the administration, organizing events and demonstrations.
Last week, Roy said one of her professors put her in touch with a student who had experienced harassment.
“I can’t talk about her story in detail because the university has quite literally silenced her with documents,” Roy said.
That’s when Roy decided to go public with her story, to make sure first-year students don’t experience the same.
“I wasn’t going out of this university knowing that … I wasn’t going to let them walk into something and leave a victim.”
On Saturday afternoon, Roy took to Facebook and Instagram to share her story.
Since then, the posts have received hundreds of shares, and more, similar stories started flooding in.
“Hundreds of women have come forward, and not just women but men as well,” Roy said.
One of the people to respond was Olivia Landry, an MTA alum who graduated in 2018. Landry said the university should not be surprised by any of the stories that came out this week.
“During my time at Mount A, from 2015 to 2018, multiple articles were published in the student newspaper … talking about students’ negative experiences with the university’s reporting policy,” she said.
Landry, who now works for the Antigonish Women’s Resource Center, wrote a letter with colleague Molly Hamilton in solidarity with Roy’s calls to action.
While she wouldn’t share the letter with Global News until the university had a chance to respond, Landry said the concerns stem from a lack of resources dedicated to responding to sexual violence on campus.
“They have one person who is hired to respond to disclosures of sexual violence … I’m not an expert on burnout or if this person’s training has been updated or anything like that, but those are things that really need to be taken into consideration,” she said.
Mount Allison University spokesperson Laura Dillman told Global News no one was available for an interview on this matter
In a Monday afternoon statement, Mount Allison’s President’s Cabinet responded to the comments of Michelle Roy and others.
“Over the past two days we have seen the many posts, comments, and personal stories that have been shared online with regard to sexual violence at Mount Allison,” the statement read.
“We hear you. We hear that we are not doing enough to support survivors. We hear that we are not doing enough to sanction offenders. We hear that we are not doing enough to bring about real change. “
The statement was signed by university president Jean-Paul Boudreau and the vice presidents.
The statement said the school pledges to work with its students more effectively and bring on change as soon as possible.
“We commit to providing you with an action plan by the end of the week with steps we will be taking as a university,” it read.
Roy said she is not very optimistic about these commitments. “Student involvement is essential. The issue that started this is the university having the power to make their own loopholes in their documents,” Roy said.
Tuesday afternoon, MTA spokesperson Dillman said in an email the President’s Cabinet is “focused on reaching out to and listening to our students to develop and discuss changes in the immediate term.”
Dillman said an update on these preliminary conversations should be sent out by the end of the week.
On Wednesday, Roy said she is meeting with the university in the afternoon. She said her biggest hope now is that the university cannot silence students that have come forward.
Landry said, “change is long overdue.” Now, she said the university must listen to students and outside experts.
“People have been talking about the changes that need to be made for a very long time,” she said. “I’m interested to see what they’re going to say.”
Roy said she is organizing a demonstration on Thursday morning in front of Mount Allison’s bookstore in Sackville.
She said Mount Allison is known for Grace Annie Lockhart who was the first woman in the British Empire to receive a bachelor’s degree.
“I wonder what Grace would say if she saw what was happening if she knew that she paved the way for women to get their bachelor’s degree, but instead … they’re just walking in to become victims,” Roy said.
“I can’t become an alumni and advertise how much I loved my education … that’s not the truth,” she said.
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