UMGSA calls out racism, harassment on campus

Statement says changes to sexual violence policy coming

The University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) released a year-end statement in December highlighting a number of issues U of M students and staff faced during 2018.

The statement touches on challenges including racism and discrimination, sexual harassment at the university and the loss of international student healthcare.

Sexual harassment

The statement addresses numerous allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” made against university faculty that came to light in the last year.

The statement includes demands from the UMGSA that “those in positions of authority do a consistently better job in responding to allegations and breaches swiftly and effectively.”

UMGSA president and Respectful Work and Learning Environment & Sexual Assault Policy Review Advisory Committee graduate representative Carl Neumann said he had “been attending meetings and giving feedback to this committee since it was created almost exactly one year ago.”

“As part of this process, we arranged to have a special consultation session with the UMGSA council, similar to the many other consultation sessions that were held, such as with UMSU’s board of directors and countless other groups around the university,” he said.

“We also promoted the consultation sessions that were open to everyone to grad students at large, as well as the opportunity to give feedback online, either anonymously or not.”

The statement mentions “upcoming changes [that] will certainly lead to far better responses when breaches occur,” and that the UMGSA is “very confident that these changes and other initiatives will make problems of this kind less frequent.”

While Neumann was unable to discuss the “upcoming changes” referred to in the statement due to “confidentiality surrounding the revisions to the university’s policies,” he added that “many things will be clarified, and that alone will make a big difference.”

According to the year-end statement, the UMGSA “will also be bringing forward proposals for changes to the advisor student guidelines, so that clear expectations for advisors, and not just for students, will be explicitly written into those agreements to make professional and personal boundaries and expectations much more clear.”

Speaking about these changes to the advisor student guidelines, Neumann said the UMGSA was “only at the very earliest stage of that initiative.”

“We’ve received very preliminary suggestions about what could be added, but it will be a longer process this term seeking wider feedback, and then making a more concrete proposal to the faculty of graduate studies.”

Discrimination in the grad student community

The statement also addresses recent cases of racist and discriminatory activity at the U of M.

The statement assured students the UMGSA was “working together with administration, along with other student groups, to respond to these cases.”

“We are currently developing a concrete procedure on how to respond to students who report such incidents, and we are compiling a list of resources that students can use for support,” Neumann said.

“At present, we can already direct students to supports of various kinds, both on and off campus, and we can raise specific concerns to administration as appropriate.”

International students hit by healthcare cuts

The statement also addresses the provincial government’s decision in March 2018 to no longer provide international students with universal healthcare.

The statement calls the loss of provincial health coverage for international students “a significant hit,” and adds the UMGSA “worked hard to ensure that all students will maintain equivalent coverage at the lowest possible cost.”

“We were very pleased that the university was willing to pay for this coverage for this academic year, and we will continue to work with university staff to maintain the best outcomes we can achieve.”