A UofT Club Calls for Better Responses to Sexual Violence on Campus
By: Jaime Pritchard, Associate Editor
Warning: this article mentions sexual assault and violence.
The University of Toronto is the largest school in Canada, with over 97 000 students enrolled across its three campuses. As the school year moves through November, the calendar has almost passed what is being referred to as the Red Zone: the period during the first few months of the fall term where university students on campuses face the highest rates of sexual assault. However, one UofT club advocates year-round for the implementation of better processes to empower and listen to survivors and also urges the UofT administration to implement better policies on these matters.
One of the many clubs on campus, Trinity Against Sexual Assault and Harassment (TASAH) is a student-run organization which works to advocate for survivors and enact measures which will protect both current and future students. The Red Zone is one of their many focuses of concern as they work towards creating a safer campus community. In a correspondence with the Trinity Times, club president Micah Kalisch calls upon the UofT administration to respond to the high rates of sexual violence on campus, and work to better protect their students. Kalisch has worked with the club for almost four years and was involved with resurrecting the club during their first year at the school.
TASAH is a club which works to amplify survivor voices and build a future where students are better protected, with their stories being heard and responded to. In Kalisch’s words, the club works with survivors to build “a community of safety, solidarity, and consent” that enables survivors to meet one another “in a place of mutuality, respect, care, and compassion.” While this club mission has been a positive contribution to the campus community, members of TASAH cannot be held solely responsible for protecting students. The club president feels that those in power at the university are failing to adequately protect students. Kalisch says that:
“UofT’s handling of sexual violence is dangerously inadequate. They lack reasonable timelines, transparency, trauma-informed approach, and instead prioritize protecting perpetrators in positions of power.”
TASAH actively works with students, for students, while Kalisch asserts that UofT prioritizes “keeping their reporting rates low.” Although this club operates out of Trinity, its president argues that the issues TASAH faces with being taken seriously are indicative of a larger culture of silence at UofT.
The reports of former Provost Andy Orchard’s alleged sexual misconduct were one example which Kalisch says solidified their understanding of the UofT administration’s failures to respond promptly and adequately to such allegations. In this case, the allegations emerged publicly, and Trinity College administration left a portrait of Orchard hanging in their dining hall for a notable period afterwards. The choice to leave this commemorative painting in the dining hall of Trinity College until very recently was “very appalling” to the TASAH president, who says this is proof of the lack of prioritization of “transparency and honesty” in these positions of power.
Almost three-quarters of students in Canadian universities have witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual activity or harassment, according to numbers published by Statistics Canada in 2020. TASAH is a stark example at UofT of how students are working to actively lower these numbers, through education, the amplification of survivor voices, and the protection of survivor stories. However, student activism by powerful students like Kalisch does not eliminate the problem. Measures to create consent cultures on campuses, encourage reporting, and limit victim blaming must be implemented by the institution itself, according to the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. This organization also identifies that an intersectional approach is critical to a thorough addressing of the issue, as different social groups are at higher risks than others among campuses. Groups like TASAH are examples of collective empowerment, in which students use their own voices to demand the resources and systems that they require, rather than waiting for administration to take note of the issue. TASAH is actively fighting to be taken seriously by the university, urging the administration to hear their voices and respond to their concerns, because, as Kalisch says, “sexual violence thrives in silence, and if they really start listening, they will have to take action.”