Really?

It’s been quite a time in Kingston over the past few months. Thanks to the behaviours of some Queen’s students and the lack of any kind of meaningful response by the university administration, we have been subjected to repeated massive parties that break city bylaws as well as provincial and federal laws. The police and city bylaw enforcement officers have had to deal with unprecedented aggression by students when they attempt to enforce the law. In attempts to control students, the city has had to take steps that affect everyone who lives in the downtown area.

This has been frustrating for those of us – the majority of the city’s population – who have followed the rules, even when that has meant we could not engage in our regular activities or spend time with friends and family members.

Déjà vu

While the pandemic partying made national headlines, as it should have, the same was not the case for misogynist banners displayed by some students during the party weekends.

“Lockdown your daughters, not King$ton” and “Western guys wish they were Pfizer so they can get inside her” were the messages painted on white bedsheets in red and black paint and hung from a number of houses in the University District a couple of weeks ago.

It was impossible for me not to remember the signs posted in one Queen’s residence in 1989; signs mocking and demeaning an anti-rape campaign run by the Kingston Sexual Assault Centre during orientation that year. Those signs used different words  but conveyed the same messages: rape is okay; it’s women’s fault if they get raped; lighten up and take a joke.

Such is my rage that it has taken me two weeks to be able to write anything other than profanities about these signs. But, still: “What the f—? Really? Still?”

No more nice words

This is not a time for platitudes or promises, both of which Queen’s Principal Patrick Deane offered in his media release:

“[N]o excuse can be made for acts of sexual harassment or violence, or sexist behaviour of any kind.  . . . The signs poison the quality of [the university] environment by unwantedly sexualizing campus life, but more particularly by causing the threat of sexual violence to hang over the heads of women and those vulnerable to harassment and assault in our community. . . If there was ever a time when cultural mores permitted such behaviour at Queen’s, that time has most definitely passed.”

Clearly, the time for such behaviours has not passed, and that is partly because Queen’s has failed again and again to take any meaningful action to support its statements about diversity, inclusion and safety for all. Over the years, it has used its student code of conduct and internal disciplinary processes in non-transparent and non-accountable ways that have protected those who have committed acts of gender-based violence while leaving survivors feeling ignored, disbelieved and unsafe.

This fall, the Principal indicated that the outcomes of internal disciplinary proceedings against students involved in illegal party behaviours will not be made public. Is there any reason for us not to assume the same approach will be taken to disciplinary proceedings related to the misogynist signs?

This would be inexcusable. I agree with Queen’s student and Peer Support Centre outreach manager Josee Lalonde, who said that Queen’s needs to make an example of students who engage in this kind of behaviour “or it’s just going to keep happening again and again.”

It’s never okay

Rape culture defines many – perhaps most or even all – post-secondary campuses. Let’s be honest: it permeates our culture as a whole.

It’s hard to be a survivor of sexual violence in this rape culture. It’s also hard to be an advocate for change when there is little meaningful action being taken at the institutional and systemic levels.

Just this morning, I read yet another news story about a man in a position of trust and authority whose history of sexually assaulting girls and young women has only now been revealed, and I felt much as I did when I heard about the signs at Queen’s two weeks ago: exhausted and utterly discouraged.

Properly disciplining a few students at one university who engage in misogynist behaviour, and publicizing that discipline, is only one small step towards ending the rape culture that leads to those kinds of news stories. But, it is a step that needs to be taken. First steps tell survivors that what happened to them is being taken seriously. They encourage advocates not to abandon hope. And, slowly, they lead to second, third and fourth steps and, through them, to the possibility of a rape-culture-free world.

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