Keeping campus safe

students at table under trees
Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 10:56am
Sharon Aschaiek

An initiative to ensure a safe campus for female students, led by U of T Mississauga in partnership with local women’s shelter Interim Place, received funding yesterday from the federal government.

Status of Women Canada is providing $200,000 to Interim Place for Camp-US, which will investigate challenges to keeping women safe on campus, and improve efforts to combat gender-based violence. The project was submitted for review to the government organization in response to its recent request for proposals relating to the theme Engaging Young People to Prevent Violence against Women on Post-Secondary Campuses. Camp-US is one of 21 such projects across Canada that altogether received almost $4 million under the initiative, which aims to encourage campus community stakeholders to collaboratively address barriers to protecting women at universities and colleges.

“We want to ensure women feel safe on campus, and build awareness about the issue of violence against women. Partnering with Interim Place builds our capacity to support students,” said Alison Burnett, director of U of T Mississauga’s Health & Counselling Centre.

“I’m hoping we will produce a great public education campaign that raises awareness of issues of violence against women on campus, and that we can work towards ongoing strategies to keep young women safe,” said Sharon Floyd, executive director of Interim Place, which operates two women’s shelters in Mississauga, and has partnered with U of T Mississauga on violence-against-women projects in the past. “I’m really glad to have the opportunity to work with UTM. There is a shared vision to continue to respond to the needs of girls on campus.”

The two-year project is being designed, implemented and evaluated by an advisory group co-chaired by Burnett and Floyd, and includes as members U of T Mississauga students, faculty and staff; U of T St. George’s Men Against Violence Against Women; and community groups such as the Peel Committee Against Women Abuse, Peel Regional Police and the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.

The first year will involve performing a safety audit of U of T Mississauga—including its security provisions, social dynamics and institutional policies and programs—and researching female students’ experience on campus through surveys and focus groups. Students from a diverse range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds will be included in the research to provide a comprehensive picture of the various factors that can influence perceptions of violence.

“Violence against women is a social, political and economic issue, and its impact can be very different depending on someone’s social location, so it’s important to look at it through these different lenses and the different experiences individuals have,” Floyd said.

The findings from the audit and research will be used to create a Community Campus Safety Plan featuring recommendations on ways to promote the safety of women at U of T Mississauga.

In the project’s second year, the results of the audit and research will be publicized, and best practices in campus safety will be documented and shared with other campuses. As well, an education, awareness and prevention campaign will be developed and executed.

The project builds on Green Dot, U of T Mississauga’s gender-neutral anti-violence program designed to create a campus culture less tolerant of violence. A collaborative initiative between multiple departments at the university that was introduced last year, it focuses on empowering bystanders to violence to intervene.

“Our hope is that the project makes our campus that much more safe for people,” Burnett said. “While the emphasis is on women, if we’re protecting women, we’re protecting everybody. So creating a campus that feels safe and comfortable for people coming here—that’s huge.”