Code of student conduct violations spiked during the 2014-15 school year, according to the annual report on the incidents and sanctions under the code. Notably, of the 32 total incidents, there was only one reported instance of sexual assault, making Western’s report rate of campus sexual violence one of the lowest in the country.
Sexual violence underreported
Jana Luker, Western’s associate vice-president student experience, said it’s not unusual to see underreporting of sexual violence on campuses and it’s a problem that affects Western too.
“[Low sexual violence report rates] are the same across Canada and North America.… We know what statistics are around sexual violence and we know what the reporting [statistics are].”
The single reported sexual assault resulted in one year of probation for the student perpetrator along with an educational sanction — the student was required to write a reflection letter.
As a result, Luker said this year Western is focused on strengthening the university’s sexual violence support programs and creating a system where victims will have better opportunities to report sexual assault and harassment. With the Ontario government’s recent anti-sexual violence initiatives and funding, the university has received funding for a sexual violence prevention/education coordinator who will be based out of the University Community Centre’s new Wellness Education Centre. The WEC is set to open this January and it will serve as a central hub for sexual assault and mental health support.
“You don’t have to know everything about what all the different options are, you just need to know where [the coordinator] is,” Luker said. “We’re working to get students to understand all of the different options that [come with filing] a report. It doesn’t mean it's going to go to the police, necessarily. It doesn’t mean you’ll be cross-examined, necessarily … the victim/survivor controls what happens.”
In addition, Luker said Western will be expanding its counselling availability in Student Health Services and psychological services within the Student Development Centre.
With increased student awareness, Western predicts there will be a "significant increase" in sexual violence reports this year.
Code of conduct violations and sanctions
Overall, there were 32 incidents from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, an increase of nine from the 23 transgressions in 2013-14. Last school year’s violations also involved 16 more students than the year prior, with 45 sanctions doled out, up from 29 in 2013-14.
The 2014-15 report’s types of violations were diverse, ranging from a student who discharged an Airsoft BB gun rifle in a residence hallway and was suspended for two years to a group of eight students who were caught “engaging or participating in conduct that is, or is reasonably seen to be, humiliating, or demeaning to another person” — all of whom received educational sanctions, such as mandatory letters of apology.
The most prevalent of Western’s student code of conduct breaches were related to assault, with seven of the 32 violations attributed to assault or assault-related incidents.
Process for violations
Luker said Western’s administration determines code of student conduct sanctions based on restorative justice practices and the idea that students’ sanctions have to have something to do with the initial transgression.
“We’re trying to educate people so that the behaviour stops,” Luker said. “When it’s a safety issue, it’s usually suspension. When it’s not deemed as a safety issue to the community but we don’t want the behaviour to continue, it’s probation.… The educational piece takes a lot more research and a lot more time because it's individualized.”
Luker added Western is working to improve consistency between the different campus groups that adhere to different conduct codes. She’s working with King's, Huron, Brescia, Western Housing, undergraduate and graduate students to look at how Western can streamline the different codes to determine best practices.
As for who determines student code of conduct sanctions at present, Luker said it's mainly overseen by her portfolio. She added the sanctions process will probably be further developed this year too.
Further, Luker stressed every violation is unique, so determining students’ repercussions is handled on a case-by-case basis, although precedent is always considered.
“The idea is to tie [the sanction] to the transgression.… I prefer something more individualized because I’ve never run across a case that doesn’t have a unique aspect to it.... We’re aiming for consistency and fairness.”