The topic for the Nov. 27 St. F.X. President’s Colloquium was understanding the legalization of cannabis. President Kent MacDonald recognized that another issue was probably on the minds of those in attendance and didn’t shy away from addressing it.
“It would be a huge gap in the night if I didn’t raise, in a public way, the issue of sexual assault on our campus,” MacDonald said, referencing the fact two students, members of the university’s X-Men football team, had been charged with sexual assault over the course of the previous few days.
“Just two years ago, when we met here, we said we’re going to talk about sexual violence on university campuses; we’re not going to hide our heads, we’re going to try to make it more public and realize that it occurs here as it does in every town and city across the country,” MacDonald said, as part of his introduction for the colloquium and referencing a 2016 colloquium that dealt, specifically, with sexual assault and gender-based violence.
“I’ll be sending a memo out to the university community saying, in no uncertain terms, there is no place for sexual violence in any part of our society.”
MacDonald concluded his opening remarks with a more general thought on the colloquium series, which are discussions held in campus residences.
“These are difficult topics and ones that make people uncomfortable but, as a liberal-arts institution, we fail you, our students, if we don’t make you uncomfortable as some point during your journey here at St. F.X.,” he said, addressing the students in the audience, which made up about 65 per cent of the colloquium attendees.
Talking to reporters after the colloquium, MacDonald was asked about interjecting his thoughts on sexual assault during his brief speech.
“I’ve made it clear, and this community has made it clear, we have a zero-tolerance for sexual violence on this campus,” he said. “It’s something we take extremely seriously; these past few days have been extremely difficult for the St. F.X. community but, first and foremost, we must care for the health and safety of all of our students.
“So my first concern is sending two messages; St. F.X. has zero tolerance for sexual violence, and number two is, for anyone who has been impacted by this, that they’re going to be supported as best as we possibly can. Again, the health and safety of all of our students is first and foremost.”
MacDonald talked about work done over the last couple of years, including the creation of a “much more clear policy on sexual violence.”
“This was a policy that was informed by months and months of input from people who are not only caring but true experts in this field and, through that policy, I think we’re better prepared,” he said.
“And yet, like any community – any community – St. F.X. is not immune to this kind of behavior and it something, I can feel it on campus, has hurt this community. We just need to continue to educate people and communicate that there is no tolerance for it. It’s something St. F.X., like every university campus in the country, has to continue to be diligent and committed to, wiping out any form of sexual violence or gender-based violence. So we’ve taken the events of the last week and we’ll continue to try and make this a safe place for everyone.”
He was asked about the coincidental nature of talking about this during a colloquium evening, where sexual violence was a previous topic.
“We raised that because we have been trying to not ignore certain things that go on, on university campuses,” he said.
“You can ignore and try to protect the institutional brand; I’ve heard that before. That’s not the way we want to deal with it; we want to deal with it by addressing it and realizing that it occurs throughout society and putting practices in place, including the very first time students step foot on this campus, to educate them and make them aware of what our expectations are.
“Again, faculty and staff have been deeply dedicated to this, student leadership has been dedicated to this and we’re going to continue to do all we can to make sure that it’s eradicated; not only on our campus but in the community.
“The fact we had a President’s Colloquium on this very topic, like we’ve had on other uncomfortable topics, I think, at least, expresses our desire to be public and transparent about it and try to commit to be good, to be better, to think about these things and prevent them.”
In concluding his remarks to reporters, MacDonald quoted former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
“President Carter said the scourge of the world right now is violence towards women around the world and I would agree with that,” he said. “The fact that it happens here in our own backyard is concerning and disappointing, and one that the university community is committed to addressing going forward.”