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Commentary: Post-secondary schools must be safe

Fifty per cent of respondents reported experiencing some form of sexual or gender-based violence as a post-secondary student, says new survey

A newly released survey of sexual and gender-based violence in the province’s post-secondary institutions highlights a need for changes to create a safer and more secure learning environment for everyone. ```

Garnering input from more than 12,000 students, the survey found that 50 per cent of respondents reported experiencing some form of sexual or gender-based violence as a post-secondary student, with sexual harassment identified as the most common form.

The shocking and troubling findings should prompt a renewed effort by all stakeholders, including first and foremost the provincial government, which is the overall governing authority for Alberta’s colleges and universities.

Responding to the survey findings, Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney said the government will work to address the situation.

“We remain committed to campus safety, including the prevention of gender-based violence,” she said. “This report gives us a clearer picture of students’ experiences across the province so we can address gaps and move forward with strong, survivor-centric supports.”

Minister of Arts, Culture and Status of Women Tanya Fir added: “No one should have to live with the fear and experience of violence. Our government is committed to ending gender-based violence and this report is an important step towards making post-secondary campuses safer for students.”

Post-secondary institutions will use data from the report to address needs specific to their campuses including, but not limited to, improving reporting processes, intervening as a bystander, how to respond to a disclosure, and increasing awareness of available supports, officials said.

The Council of Alberta University Students is calling on government ministries to help “build consent culture within our institutions to better protect our students,” said chair Chris Beasley.

Alberta’s economic, social and cultural future will continue to depend in large measure on the province’s post-secondary students. As such, improvements are needed and necessary.

Hopefully the government ministers now assuring Albertans they will work to better protect post-secondary students will do what they say. 

Dan Singleton is an editor with the Albertan.

Dan Singleton

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