The Gazette asked DSU President Kathleen Reid to explain why she and others want to students to vote yes for a levy for a new student-run Survivor Support Centre. It will require full-time students to pay $2.50 per term and part-time students $1.50 per term.
What brought on the need for you and much of the current DSU exec to advocate for the Survivor Support levy? With Avalon, South House and other gender and sexual resource centres, why do you feel the need to create the Survivor Support Centre?
The Survivor Support Centre will be mandated to work in collaboration with existing and valuable services. This is something we view as complementary and serving a very real need for students on campus who don’t believe in, trust, or feel that they can use existing supports on campus for sexual violence survivors, that are run by the university administration. There are plenty of unmet needs on campus for survivors of sexual violence, and we believe we have a responsibility to “share the load” that exists within this city and the underfunded and overstretched resources currently available. The Survivor Support Centre will also be in a unique position to help members of the Dalhousie campus community navigate systems specific to this institution.
Has the university offered to help out with any of the costs?
The DSU has a history of collaborating with the university on our Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line. When the phone line first began, after the six-week long pilot of the service, the university granted the DSU $29,000 to extend the phoneline pilot project to the end of the academic year. The DSU and the university signed a memorandum of understanding which recognizes the university’s financial contribution as representing 50% of the annual cost of the phone line.
When we tried to renew our funding proposal to keep the project running for a second year, the university offered $15,000 to contribute to the phone line. This was conditional on the DSU crediting Dalhousie $7500, and putting forward the additional $22,500 needed to run the phone line in full for the full academic year. The DSU declined Dalhousie’s inadequate funding, as we did not have the funds to make up the rest of the service.
Because of the inconsistency in funding from the university, the DSU decided to run a levy to make sure the centre would be funded from a sustainable source, that was reliable. Collaborating with the university on projects is something the DSU is always open and willing to do, but in the case of supporting survivors, the DSU executive has decided we cannot risk losing funding for such an important and necessary service.
It’s been two years since the Dentistry Scandal. Where do you see the school heading in terms of how it treats sexual assault survivors? What do you think the administration and/or the DSU needs to do to stop misogyny and rape culture on campus?
It’s important to recognize that rape culture has been alive and well on Dalhousie campus since well before the incidents that occurred in the faculty of dentistry. Dentistry sparked the university to take action on something that has been affecting students at all university institutions.
Since the release of the Backhouse Report recommendations, the university has made some steps in the right direction. The most notable one is the creation of a stand alone Sexual Assault Policy. This is currently still being created, but the process has been very collaborative with the DSU and the university community. Implementing this policy is so important, as in the past, sexual assaults have been lumped into the general harassment policy, and sexual assault cases followed “guidelines” rather than a legitimate policy. Although this is a step in the right direction, it is absolutely not the solution. The only way we can fight rape culture at Dalhousie is by creating a culture of consent to replace it. This is done through education and advocacy, in a collaborative and intersectional way. The DSU Survivor Support centre would be a massive step in the right direction to creating a culture of consent here at Dal.