The Vancouver Sun
1.15. 16 | Jonathon Ichikawa
he University of B.C. came under public scrutiny last year for failures in its sexual assault policies. Last week, many UBC faculty members, including myself, signed an open letter apologizing for these failures and pledging a commitment to prompt policy reform.
Since then, there has been one question I hear surprisingly often: Why should a university have a sexual assault policy at all? Isn’t sexual assault a matter for law enforcement? Universities shouldn’t take on the role of the RCMP. There is a seductive intuitiveness to this challenge, but it is rooted in misconceptions about the responsibilities of universities, the role of criminal law, and the nature of knowledge.
The education of its students is a sacrosanct duty of any university. Safety and security are necessary conditions for learning; students will not thrive in a culture of fear. So a commitment to the safety and security of students and other university community members follows directly from a commitment to education. The idea that we can or should separate our commitment to “pure teaching” from questions of safety and security is a convenient myth, used to justify ignoring our more difficult responsibilities.
When serious wrongdoings occur, it is often appropriate to involve law enforcement. The main UBC campus falls within the jurisdiction of the RCMP, and victims of crimes should be supported when they choose to report them. But reporting crimes to police — especially when, as in many sexual assaults, there is minimal physical evidence of a crime — can come with a variety of costs, for example to victims’ privacy. Furthermore, student victims of assault by a classmate may or may not want their attackers to go to jail for it — their priorities may be to have their experiences recognized, and to be protected from further interaction with their attackers.