With nine more incidents involving 16 more students, Western’s code of student conduct violations spiked last year but their accompanying sanctions failed to deliver punch or consistency.
The sanctions ranged from probation to a suspension of two years, with most offending students receiving an educational sanction involving a letter of reflection — a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Lacking in context, it’s jarring to see the single reported sexual assault’s sanction that seems far less severe than one for discharging a BB gun in residence. It is the difference between probation for a year and a reflection letter, and suspension for two years.
Notably, these sanctions would offer little relief to a victim of sexual violence, especially since Western’s code of student conduct sanctions are based on principles of restorative justice. It’s a controversial jurisdictional system that proposes "a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by [illicit] behaviour."
As associate vice-president student experience Jana Luker has stated, the goal of the code’s sanctions is to either stop offensive behaviour or remove a potential safety threat from the campus community.
To this effect, a reflection letter makes sense because its purpose is to force students to contemplate their actions and hopefully learn something from them. On the other hand, the system often seems like a cop-out for real meaningful punishment for their actions. Who can determine if a letter of reflection is feigned or heartfelt?
If Western’s code administrators are insistent about a restorative justice system, sanctions should be less abstract and subjective. More meaningful sanctions would be community service requirements or victim-offender mediation, if appropriate.
In addition, while it’s true each case is unique, sanctions per specific violations should be more clearly defined to ensure consistency. If a survivor of sexual violence is to go through the process of pursuing sanctions for their attacker(s) under the code of conduct, they should be assured of a fair and appropriate response for their suffering. It's not simply a matter of punishing student offenders more harshly, but also punishing them in a meaningful way that shows they understand the pain their actions have caused.
With Western set to launch a sexual violence awareness campaign and consequently predicting an increase in sexual violence sanctions contained in next year’s report, time will tell if Western’s restorative justice methods are effective or if they miss the mark.