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Rape culture, CanLit, and You

some collated tweets regarding the letter signed by CanLit who's who calling for an investigation of how UBC handled investigation into allegations re: Steven Galloway

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  1. I start this storify by stating: all University investigations of allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, bullying and other matters which involve students are traumatizing. These processes are impersonal and invasive. They leave a lot of trauma in their wake. I understand why Joseph Boyden has, as reported in the Vancouver Sun on 15 November, spearheaded efforts to call for an investigation into the most recent high profile case of a Canadian University terminating someone in relation to serious allegations:
  2. "The publisher for author Joseph Boyden confirmed he spearheaded a group effort to write and circulate the open letter, although not all those on the list could be reached to confirm their support. Boyden, who is the author of the award-winning novel Through Black Spruce, sent an email to writers asking for their signatures, saying the open letter “does not draw conclusions about guilt or innocence, but focuses on a process that ill-served complainants and Mr. Galloway.” (Quote from this November 15 article in the Vancouver Sun:)

  3. However, there are ways to condemn that process which also make room to stand in solidarity with the students who came forward and who were traumatized by the process as well. Despite being authored by the top writers in the country, this letter does not achieve this. Instead, it uses language like: 'unsubstantiated' and points to the fact that no criminal charges were laid in the case. Well, I hope that Canadian Literati remember the incredible burden of proof that is put upon survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and harassment or bullying in the workplace. There is a reason that up to 2 out of 3 rapes goes unreported:  https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system 
  4. It is also important to note that lack of criminal charges in a case like this is not necessarily an exoneration. As you well know the burden of proof in cases like this is very high. All Canadians learned this this spring with the Ghomeshi trial.
  5. I am a professor. My job, first and foremost, is to teach. And to extend a significant duty of care to my students. I, too, stand firmly opposed to processes which traumatize or re-victimize students. I stand firmly with efforts to build departments and faculties where exploitation of students is not allowed. I stand firm in efforts to end Rape Culture on our campuses, and I stand firm with survivors whose stories are not heard, who are forced to continue working in spaces where sexual abusers and those who perpetrate assault are never brought to justice. The statistics offered to professors in Ontario from surveys of student mental health indicate incredible levels of anxiety, depression amongst undergrad and graduate students. There are ongoing conversations happening at many universities about the role that heteropatriarchy (and, yes, sexual harassment) play in this current state of things. Further, current high profile cases of (repeat) sexual misconduct at Universities like Berkeley and Yale teach us that these issues go all the way to the top of our fields. This issue at UBC was being weighed in the context of an endemic, widespread and continuously reaffirmed order of sexual harassment and misogyny across all university spaces. This, too, must be investigated.
  6. So, in response to the substantive points of the letter, I think it is important here to refer back to this statement from UBC issued in response to the letter -- Mr. Galloway's termination is being reviewed by UBC through his (necessary and important) right to grievance:  https://twitter.com/EmilyLazatin980/status/798726369580417024 
  7. What I think is the most important here is for the prominent, celebrated Canadian authors who have signed this letter so far to understand the cultural power this letter has and its (I imagine unintended) silencing power over those in the Canadian Literature community who have experienced, or who are experiencing, sexual violence, violence and abuse within this small, tight-knit Canadian arts, media and literature community. Focussing so intently on Mr. Galloway's experience without tending to the experiences of the students and complainants in this case has the powerful effect of, as one person tweeted, 'intimidating survivors'.
  8. So I turn here to addressing the person who spearheaded this letter, Mr. Boyden. As an Indigenous woman professor, as someone who has experienced extensive harassment (misogyny, racism) in the academy in the past for speaking out about racism and misogyny in our classrooms and conference hallways, and for someone whose first duty is to stand in solidarity with students who face incredible barriers to support and due process when they DO face harassment of all kinds in the academy, I have to ask Mr. Boyden how he can reconcile his role in spearheading this letter in its current form (specifically the way it is written such that it excludes any acknowledgement of the trauma that complainants have faced) with his very public writing and support of issues regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit Persons, including your role in editing the book Kwe. Joseph, the message your letter sends is that survivors are an afterthought. Your letter makes Indigenous women in Canadian literature and scholarly spaces feel unsafe. The signatories to the letter are now a list of people that Indigenous women in Canadian literature and arts cannot trust to dismantle heteropatriarchy in the spaces where we hit the glass ceiling with such unfailing frequency. As several people noted on Twitter, where were the letters of support and outrage when issues of misogyny and exploitation in Canadian Lit came to light in 2014, 2015 or even other cases throughout 2016? If you are going to stand in solidarity with Steven Galloway and his treatment by UBC stemming from the allegations that were raised by people within his department, then you must exert incredible care in ensuring that you ALSO stand in solidarity with people who face ongoing abuse within all facets of Canadian Lit. Because, again, 2 out of 3 rapes go unreported. And the Ghomeshi trial teaches us that coming forward with reports of abuse at the hands of prominent Canadian gliterati is a traumatizing matter, one that is very likely to be dismissed by Canadian courts.
  9. So, I believe her. I believe them. I stand with those ending rape culture. I acknowledge the violence of University processes for handling allegations of sexual misconduct, workplace harassment. I can assert that while also acknowledging the disenfranchisement of students in these systems and processes. And I hope that the signatories to this letter realize what damage they have done to younger writers who work hard to build up safe, nurturing and accountable spaces for our work across this country. This letter and its failure to tend to the experiences of complainants underscores our need to End Rape Culture. Everywhere.
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