Game Changer: Ending a Culture of Gendered Violence

Laurier initiating the change we wish to see in the world

This week at Her Campus Laurier, we are highlighting a very important issue and one that is far too often overlooked and neglected. Sexual assault is an issue that we, as a society, often sweep under the rug. A subject that while ignored, leaves victims of assault in a prison of isolation, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and vulnerability. Here at Laurier,  including us at Her Campus, we want to promote the safety and awareness for, not only our collegiates, but also our staff, faculty, and members of the community.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of sexual assault cases occur on campus, which is an issue that a documentary titled The Hunting Ground shed light on. The documentary, promoted by Lady Gaga and her soundtrack “Until it happens to you”, highlights the harrowing statistics surrounding sexual assault on campus and the deplorable response observed in aiding victims. In June 2015, The Washington Post issued a report stating 1 in 5 young women who attended residential colleges or universities over a four-year span said they were sexually assaulted.

Her Campus Laurier would argue that there isn’t a student out there with more Laurier pride than our group; however, it does not excuse or dismiss the fact that this issue is just as prevalent at Laurier as anywhere else. It is our hopes, along with many other devoted and enthusiastic individuals, to make Laurier a place we can be more than proud of, one free from a culture of gendered violence and sexual assault and one that empowers our students to come together and force change. 

I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to speak with and interview Olivia Matthews. A graduate from Laurier, Olivia is now the President and CEO of our students union and is a huge activist for sexual assault here at Laurier and in the community.

Name: Olivia Matthews

Age: 22

Year: Graduated!

Program: Political Science and Global Studies with a Research Specialization Option

Tell us a little about your involvements here at Laurier.

I work full time for the Students' Union as the President & CEO. Over my time at Laurier as a student I was involved in Residence Life & Education, Peer Conduct Education, Campus Ambassadors, and the Academic Council on the United Nations System.

What is a day in the life of Olivia Matthews?

Emails. Meetings. Coffee. Emails. Office Hours. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. I absolutely love my job.

What is your favourite aspect of the Students' Union?

My favourite aspect of the Students' Union is representing students' voices and advocating for what they need whether that be academic, wellness-concerned, physical space, or the like. There is so much that can be done when the student perspective and their needs are brought into the conversation.

Why the focus on sexual assault awareness campaigns?

Put simply - because students deserve to know that people are fighting to eliminate a culture of gendered violence and sexual assault on campus. It's difficult to change culture, but awareness and recommendations for policy empower students and make stepping stone changes along the way.

What resources are available on campus for students when they’re seeking help?

The university is in the midst of creating a position that is explicitly for support of students who are survivors of sexual assault. This position is being created on both campuses to make sure there is adequate support for students but also so they do not have to tell their story to a handful of staff and instead can get help by a trained and trusted professional.

On top of this position, there are many resources across our campuses that offer support. I would recommend visiting our Dean of Students' Offices, the Wellness Centre, Special Constables Services, the Students' Union, Residence Life or any supervising department. We are all a part of a model of care, and we are all willing to help support any students to find the resources they need.

What are some of the different campaigns and courses of action you take to promote and raise awareness here at Laurier and in our community?

Our work with sexual assault and gendered violence has not been entirely campaign based. For example - myself, our VP of University Affairs, and our Director of Policy Research presented in front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and they ended up implementing our recommendation concerning the Landlord Tenancies Act.

I sit on the Gendered Violence Steering Committee, the GV Communications Working Group and the Consent is Golden Task Force. The Steering Committee is made up of students, faculty and staff leading a set of working groups to achieve policy, protocols, education, assessment and awareness. The Communications Group is creating a Communications Toolkit to best explain our work and help other publishing agencies to use proper terminology to tackle the issues and respect survivors. The Consent is Golden group is a team of students looking to create positive change on campus by unpacking consent and encouraging students to become active bystanders.

What do you hope to accomplish through these campaigns? 

Eventually - and I know it sounds shocking right now - to eliminate gendered violence and sexual assault at Laurier. Our students, staff and faculty deserve to learn, live, teach and advocate in a place where they are safe. The campaigns and work being done to eliminate this violence helps not only Laurier but also our entire community. The push for this work has been a long time coming and I am so fortunate to be able to voice students concerns in order to create positive change.

What resources are available on campus for students when they’re seeking help?

The university is in the midst of creating a position that is explicitly for support of students who are survivors of sexual assault. This position is being created on both campuses to make sure there is adequate support for students but also so they do not have to tell their story to a handful of staff and instead can get help by a trained and trusted professional.

On top of this position, there are many resources across our campuses that offer support. I would recommend visiting our Dean of Students' Offices, the Wellness Centre, Special Constables Services, the Students' Union, Residence Life or any supervising department. We are all a part of a model of care, and we are all willing to help support any students to find the resources they need.

 

Olivia, we not only applaud your dedication and hard work to a necessary cause, but we also hope that we can count on all of our collegiates to support and empower students to put an end to a culture of gendered violence and fight for our fellow Hawks. Together we can make a change.