Someone’s here to help

October 7, 2017

You may not always feel like you have a voice.

When a person goes through trauma, they may feel cut off from the world, isolated, like they desperately need someone to listen to them. When they speak, nothing comes out.

If you’ve ever felt this way, know that you’re not alone. Know that there are people who are ready to listen and who want to help. At NAIT, the Student Resolution Office and its team has been established to do just that. While NAIT has always stood against violence, the Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy has recently been revised in order to better serve the student body.

Examined to fill in the gaps, the focus is on fostering education on issues, to be restorative rather than punishing and, above all, to treat students fairly. Everyone has the right to be safe. That’s the number one priority.

Sexual violence is any violence – whether it’s physical or psychological – that is directed towards someone’s sex or sexuality. In regards to such acts of violence, the biggest change to the new policy is that it is less about traditional, punitive methods of handling the situation, but is rather meant to empower survivors.

Acts of sexual violence often leave people feeling violated and unsafe, and NAIT’s revised sexual violence policy makes it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable in the NAIT community.

Kristen Flath was at the head of revising the sexual violence policy in which (aligned with the new code of conduct) victims are in control of the process, particularly the level of process they wish to pursue. Students generally have three different options: disclosure, record of information, and complaint.

A disclosure is when a student comes forth, says that they need help, and is then referred to resources to get the help that they need. A record of information is used for when a student isn’t sure of what they want to do; the information is captured should they wish to pursue a process later on.

Lastly, a complaint is when a student asks NAIT to evaluate the behaviour of someone else to determine if NAIT policy (that everyone in NAIT’s community deserves to feel safe) has been violated, and hold others accountable, accordingly.

Craig Whitton NAIT’s Student Resolution Officer says that support for those who come forth is the No. 1 goal; to make sure that they are heard and are treated with respect.

“Crafting an effective policy can be challenging, but the NAIT policy does a great job of affirming that sexual violence is not acceptable within the NAIT community,” Whitton says

“Survivors will be heard and believed and have access to the support that they need, and people will be held accountable for engaging in sexual violence and causing harm to individuals and our community. The new policy is based on the best practices in responding to sexual violence disclosure, while also ensuring that those who are alleged to have engaged in these behaviours are given a fair process.”

Most acts of sexual violence are primarily perpetuated by people who know each other, Whitton said. The idea of the “boogeyman-hiding-in-the-bushes” is very rare. However, regardless of what incident takes place, the Student Resolution Office is in place to support victims.

The new policy also recognizes that not every problem is the same, and so a ‘onesize-fits-all’ solution simply doesn’t work. Sexual violence covers a wide range of behaviours, and responses are equally varied. Some cases may need an investigation, with a formal decision made based on the information collected.

Other cases may be more appropriately handled through “Alternative Dispute Resolutions” e.g. can the situation be resolved through communication rather than an investigation or pressing charges? Responsibility is to be looked at over blame. It’s not about labelling a student as simply guilty or not guilty.

If the perpetrator is not aware of what they did wrong, then it’s important to educate them as to why what they did was wrong and how to rectify it. The main goal of any of these processes is to hold people accountable without causing further harm to the survivor. The Student Resolution Office will work with survivors to make sure the best process is selected..

The Rights and Responsibilities Policy is usually reviewed every five years; however, it is going to be reviewed in just one year’s time – with feedback from students – in order to keep it evolving.

Look out for each other and treat one another with respect. You deserve to feel safe, whether it be on or off campus. Never be afraid to speak up. You have a voice. But remember, you don’t have to go through it alone. If you need a hand to hold, someone will be waiting with open arms. If you need someone to speak to, know that you will be heard.

The Student Resolution Office can be contacted at Resolutions@nait.ca or by calling 780-491-5468.

– Alan Holmes