Why sexual assault awareness month should matter to us all

The Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) has collaborated with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) since its inception. We are committed to building connections across the UBC Vancouver campus, for example, by supporting the SVPRO’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) initiative through the CTLT Indigenous Initiatives Classroom Climate Series, featuring in-depth discussion about sexual violence on campus.

Cultivating a safe campus environment involves educating the UBC teaching and learning community about sexual assault. On December 11, the SVPRO hosted a workshop during the CTLT Winter Institute. The workshop was attended by faculty, teaching assistants and staff who wanted to learn more about supporting students and responding to disclosures of sexual assault.

As UBC approaches the tenth year of SAAM, it’s important to reflect on the efforts to date and how the university can further support this impactful initiative. We reached out to Sasha Wiley-Shaw, an educator at the SVPRO, to learn more about the role of staff, faculty and students at UBC regarding sexual assault.

Can you share with us your role and background on your work at the SVPRO?

I’m an Educator with UBC’s SVPRO on the Vancouver campus. I support the faculty and staff education portfolio and work alongside a counterpart who is focused on students.

Before I came into this work, I worked for the Tsawwassen and Musqueam First Nations in public policy and spent eight years teaching adult and alternative education (I taught English, Social Studies, Women’s Studies, Law, Social Justice, etc.). During this time, I worked with the teachers’ federation doing professional development around sexualized violence and gender equality.

I’ve been in my current role for just over a year. The focus so far has been on making sure the campus community is aware of our support services and UBC’s Sexual Misconduct Policy (SC 17). Also, providing training on trauma-informed responses to disclosures of sexual violence, in particular with groups of staff who are front line and likely to receive disclosures (e.g., academic and enrollment services advisors, residence staff).

When we blame those targeted by violence (such as by asking why someone was out late or intoxicated, what they were wearing, etc.), we excuse perpetration, which normalizes violence. Our approach is to do the opposite—to work towards the elimination of sexualized violence by creating an environment that supports survivors and targets perpetration risks—a safety-building approach to creating a culture of consent.

What are the services provided by the SVPRO, specifically any aspects that instructors might find helpful?

UBC’s Sexual Misconduct Policy (SC 17) lays out that supports are available to anyone—faculty, student, or staff—who disclose that they have been impacted by sexualized violence. This includes whether they experienced it, witnessed it, or heard about it, maybe through supporting a survivor.

The SVPRO has a team of support specialists who work one-on-one with survivors to access what they need: academic concessions, workplace accommodations, safety planning, and a variety of other supports. There is no “one-size-fits-all” model; survivors can connect with whichever support they need and have control over the process. Survivors have control over who collaborates to provide support, how they collaborate, what they know, etc.

There is no reporting or investigations required to access support services—but UBC does also have its own trauma-informed investigation process for sexualized violence through the Independent Investigations Office (IIO). It also offers a range of alternative dispute resolution approaches.

In addition to supporting survivors, we are also the campus consultant. Any faculty member who receives a disclosure can consult our office for support, on how to make a successful referral, receive information about system navigation, support related to vicarious trauma, and more. We also provide faculty and staff education and training on UBC’s policies, systems, and approaches to sexualized violence, which are available to faculty and department meetings. We can also offer support on how to talk about sexualized violence in the classroom and building consent culture, applicable in all areas of life.

Why do you think it’s important for faculty to be interested in SAAM?

Sexualized violence is a pervasive social problem that impacts us all. [The types] of risk factors we may face can shift over time and in different contexts as our relative power shifts. Awareness reduces all of those risks.

Many of our community members have been touched by sexualized violence in some form. [They] may experience impacts that get in the way of their ability to excel in their studies, research, and other work. Through taking a trauma-informed approach, we can ensure inclusion for survivors.

Institutions can be in danger of replicating past harm and social-structural oppression if we do not become aware of how violence plays out in our contexts. The demographics, culture, and complex power relationships within universities pose particular risks for sexualized violence. By identifying them and committing to changing the culture, we can create institutions that are truly inclusive of survivors, where those impacted by trauma can have the same access to learning, teaching, working, and experiencing success as anyone else on campus.

With SAAM entering its 10th year at UBC, what is the theme for this year? What can faculty do, particularly during January, to support raising awareness around sexual assault and violence? How can they incorporate this into their teaching and in the classroom?

The theme for the 10th anniversary of SAAM is “From Awareness to Action.” After ten years of raising awareness, [it is time to ask ourselves], what are we now aware of? What are we called on to do with the knowledge and awareness we have?

[As for] faculty, they are amazing information conduits! Faculty are encouraged to:

  1. familiarize themselves with UBC’s systems for preventing and responding to sexualized violence – Policy SC 17 (SVPRO can help!), which participants also learned about at our session at the CTLT Winter Institute on December 11;
  2. share the SAAM website;
  3. use the SAAM toolkit, including key messages, graphics, promotional powerpoint, etc.; and
  4. where appropriate, discuss SAAM’s theme, key messages, and events with students. For faculty who teach in related areas, attending an event as a class may be an option to consider—connect with the SVPRO to learn more.

Sexual assault awareness can be integrated into classrooms through system knowledge, including the support and reporting services available through the SVPRO and the IIO, and through consent-based classroom approaches, such as creating environments where diversity in gender and sexuality are respected. [This can be done by] modelling of clear consent practices for touching or close interaction, and acknowledging the impacts of systemic, cultural, and historical sexualized violence on many people in the community.

How can the larger UBC teaching and learning community (i.e., graduate students and teaching assistants) contribute to raising awareness?

We need to create space and support for survivor voices. It takes tremendous bravery and the overcoming of many barriers for survivors to speak out. It’s far too common for survivors to be blamed or have their stories dismissed, and survivors still too often face social stigma. Yet survivors have tremendous expertise on how we can increase safety and grow our culture of consent, so when they do speak out, we need to support them.

If someone discloses about an incident of sexualized violence, we don’t need to ask what happened or why—that’s the job of the Independent Investigations Office, if someone chooses to report. Instead, we can ask about what kinds of support someone needs and help them get connected.

Talking about sexualized violence, attending SAAM events, and engaging with the SVPRO survivor solidarity postcards and the We Believe You campaign are all ways we create an environment that is supportive of survivors. The more supportive a community is of survivors, the less hospitable it is for perpetration.

We can all contribute to creating a culture of consent. Consent can be a practice that applies not only to intimacy but to our daily actions and interactions. When we think about consent in our daily lives, we become more aware of the ways we are with everyone around us, which guides us to consciously create the culture we want for our campus community.


To learn more about sexual assault awareness at UBC, visit the resources below, available to the UBC community: