Nova Scotia universities get $400,000 grant for sexual violence initiatives

A sign marks one of the entrances to the St. Francis Xavier University campus in Antigonish, N.S. on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia has announced $400,000 in support of seven initiatives aimed at helping to prevent sexual violence on university campuses.

The money is part of a five-year memorandum of understanding that will see universities get just over $2.3 million in grants.

Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis made the announcement on Friday, saying the approved projects will be led by Saint Mary's University, St. Francis Xavier University, Mount Saint Vincent University and the Council of Nova Scotia University presidents.

"Building a consent culture will take sustained effort by all of us -- and with our partners we are committed to this," Kousoulis said.

"The funded projects to date will help institutions develop best practices and build capacity and knowledge through collaboration, training and evaluation techniques."

Among the initiatives receiving funding are student liaison positions at each campus and a program to create evaluation techniques for measuring progress in changing attitudes around sexual violence.

Another project led by MSVU will gather cultural perspectives through focus groups involving international students, while a program at St. F.X. will provide prevention education related to consent.

Paula Barry Mercer, co-chair of the Provincial Sexual Violence Prevention Committee, said the evaluation program will be key in determining whether the initiatives are actually working to help change attitudes.

The program will be developed by Saint Mary's University professor Diane Crocker.

Barry Mercer said part of Crocker's work involves so called "anecdote circles" which gather groups of students and attempt to understand their perceptions about sexual violence through storytelling.

"We will also be participating in a national climate survey that was developed at McGill University. That will give us that quantitative data where we can see if there's been any change over years," Barry Mercer said.

She said the research will be conducted this winter and again in three to four years time.

She said all of Nova Scotia's universities have committed to consent education activities during orientation programming, and those efforts will be expanded in the coming years.

In 2016, the province mandated that all universities needed to have a standalone sexual violence policy within three years.

Barry Mercer, who is also vice-president of student experience at Mount Saint Vincent, said it's hoped improvements made to those polices have helped to assure students they can come forward if they are sexually assaulted.

"We know in the past that this has been a challenge from our students' perspective," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2019.