WATCH: McGill, Concordia students walk out of class to protest sexual misconduct
Around a thousand students from McGill and Concordia walked out of their classes this afternoon to protest the way that both universities have handled a number a sexual misconduct allegations against tenured professors. The students held a rally in the quadrangle that sits in front of McGill’s James Administration Building denouncing an administration they say has shielded professors about whom there are “open secrets” of sexual misconduct and impropriety among faculty members.
Last week, the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) began circulating an open letter to administration officials demanding that an external investigation be launched into complaints against five professors — all in the school’s Faculty of Arts. Student leaders say that no substantive action has been taken against any of them. The letter has since garnered over two thousand signatures and endorsements from nearly one hundred organizations on campus.
Concordia’s Student Union (CSU) organized a companion walkout to show solidarity with the McGill students. Concordia was in the news earlier in the academic year after allegations arose against several professors in the school’s English Literature and Creative Writing departments.
Connor Spencer organized today’s walkout. Several times, she acknowledged that most students present at the protest knew which professors media reports were referring to — they cannot be named due to provincial privacy laws.
Demonstrators angrily chanted “we deserve better”, “we will not be silenced”, and “this will not blow over”, waving signs as several administration officials visibly looked on from windows in the building behind the protest. Spencer says that after today’s show of solidarity, it’s clear that “we take this very seriously, and they [the administration] should too.”
Other student leaders present for the rally, like Sophia Sahrane from the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), added that the way the complaint system is set up today discourages students from coming forward with allegations.
Yesterday, McGill students and staff members were sent an email from the administration refuting claims that the school ignores claims of sexual misconduct. Provost Christopher Manfredi’s office, which sent the letter, stated that the university “does not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form”, but students say it didn’t meet their demand for an external investigation to be set up.
Spencer says that if the school does not take more substantive action soon, they will. As the rally drew to a close, she proclaimed, “if [the administration] do not, by Monday, acknowledge that there is a problem with the existing climate, policies and procedures in place on this campus, and commit to launching an external investigation into the Faculty of Arts, we will be reporting you [McGill] to the Minister of Higher Education’s office under Bill 151.”
She later told CJAD 800 that the complaint would be filed under a section of Bill 151 that has never been used before, but that she was hopeful Minister Hélène David would turn her words in support of the bill into action.
Andreann Asibey, a leader from McGill’s Black Students Network, remarked that this was one of the most well-attended protests she had seen on this campus. “I’m genuinely happy, because this is the beginning of something”, she said.