By Sukhi Brar (SUS President)
“Sukhi, what led you to come back for a second term at the UFV Student Union Society?”
This is a question that I have encountered surprisingly often since I began my term as SUS president at the beginning of this month. Each time this question has been posed to me, I usually respond by saying that I enjoyed the advocacy work I did last year and I’m back because I want to continue doing work that benefits UFV students. While all of that is certainly true, what I’ve struggled to publicly acknowledge is what ultimately compelled me to return to our Student Union Society this term: the opportunity to work on addressing a student issue that has significantly impacted my life. My intention has always been to do this work quietly, but recent conversations on our campus have compelled me to share a closely-guarded piece of my life with you. I’m speaking out and sharing my story because I believe our campus community can come together with the shared vision of improving our institutional processes to best serve UFV students instead of falling into discourse that might isolate students who are sexual assault survivors. _____________________________________________________________________________
Last year, my life completely changed after I was sexually assaulted by another student. In the aftermath, I attempted to go about my life as if it had never happened. But as hard as I tried to, I couldn’t. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I suffered from regular panic attacks/anxiety. Eventually, I was formally diagnosed with PTSD. To the people in my life that noticed these changes in my behavior, I tried to pass it all off as the stress that comes along with a busy and involved student life.
I’m a very driven person and it’s important to me to be self-sufficient. Because of this, I really struggle to reach out for help — especially at times when I know I need it the most. For the longest time I pretended my life was not impacted by what had happened to me. I denied, I invented cover stories to reassure the people around me that I was okay, and I repeatedly told myself that I had the situation handled and did not need help. It’s really difficult for me to admit this, but it eventually got so bad that one day I ended up on my bathroom floor contemplating taking my life.
I’m still alive today because I’m a student at UFV. I’m still alive today because UFV has a campus culture where a UFV administrator, Jody Gordon, noticed my behavioral changes and actively rallied to make sure I got the help and support I needed. I could not and would not have reached out for help on my own. I’m so fortunate that I’m on a university campus where ultimately I didn’t need to. I’m happy to say that I’m at a point in healing today that I feel able to report and pursue criminal charges against my attacker.
From my own experience, I’ve learned that sexual assault is not something you walk away from without it profoundly affecting your life. It’s why it is so important that sexual assault survivors know that there are resources and support that they can access on the road to recovering from a traumatic experience. Knowing this, I found it extremely difficult to read an article in ***The Cascade that implied UFV students who have survived sexual assault are rendered silent by a process at our institution that is designed with institutional self-preservation in mind. There are already so many barriers that inherently exist on the road to reporting a sexual assault; it’s my fear and concern that a UFV student who might have otherwise come forward to report an incident may have been dissuaded based on ***The Cascade’s coverage of this topic. A lot of information presented in that article is completely at odds with my own experience, the experience of several students that I know who have navigated the non-academic misconduct investigation process at UFV, and what I’ve learned about our institution’s investigation process in relation to the processes that exist at other Canadian universities.
I want to stress that I am not trying to imply that UFV has a perfect investigation process. I’m not trying to diminish the experience of students who have been victims of sexual assault and did not feel completely supported by the processes that currently exist at UFV. There is an important conversation that needs to take place on our campus on how we can best support UFV students and improve our processes so that we can minimize the impact of sexual assault in the lives of survivors. This is a profoundly difficult and complex conversation to have. But it’s not fair, accurate, or helpful to imply that our institution does not have the best interest of students in mind as we try to set the foundation to navigate this conversation.
I share the concerns of UFV president, Mark Evered, that UFV students who have read the article published in April may believe that they have nowhere to turn to for support at our institution, whether that support comes in the form of formal support services or the act of reporting a sexual assault. I’m extremely disappointed that these concerns were subsequently dismissed by our campus newspaper in their coverage of this topic. While I may not always agree with every decision our institution makes, from everything I have observed and experienced during my undergraduate career at UFV, I have never doubted the fact that our institution prioritizes the well-being of students in its decision-making; our university really is student-centered. With this in mind, I encourage our campus community to come together and engage in a positive dialogue on how we can best support students who survive sexual assault. I believe this is essential in driving the development of processes that best serve our student body.
It comes as no surprise to those who know me well that I really value my privacy. It’s exceptionally difficult for me to make the decision to come forward and share my story publicly. But I believe it’s important that UFV students who have survived sexual assault realize that they can find support on our campus. It is my sincere hope that these students do not hesitate to reach out for help from UFV staff, faculty, administrators, or any member of our campus community that they are comfortable reaching out to. I know reporting a sexual assault and going through an investigation process is not easy and might not be a process that is helpful for all survivors on their path to healing. But for those who are ready and willing, I sincerely hope you feel safe coming forward to report. It is never okay for one individual to assault another. This is behavior our campus community does not condone and will not turn a blind eye to.
To students whose lives have been impacted by sexual assault: as profoundly difficult as it is to live with trauma, I promise you that there are people and resources, on our campus and in the wider community, that are available to help you. Please do not hesitate to reach out and use these resources:
ON OUR CAMPUS:
UFV Safe Student Community
For information on:
- Student rights and responsibilities (behaviour expectations)
- Behaviours subject to intervention/discipline
- UFV policies relating to conduct
- Process to report allegation of disruptive behaviours
UFV Student Services office
VP Students Jody Gordon: 604-854-4518
Abbotsford office: 604-854-4528
Chilliwack office: 604-795-2808
UFV Counselling Services (including Crisis Appointments)
Abbotsford: 604-854-4528 (or visit room B214 Monday to Friday, 9am-4:30pm)
Chilliwack: 604-795-2808 (or visit room A1318 Monday to Friday, 9am-4:00pm)
Emergency and after hours crisis line: 604-951-8855 or 1-877-820-7444 (toll-free)
For immediate safety risks, please call: 911
UFV Security (including Security Safe Walk Program)
For emergencies: 911
First Aid: local 7770 or 1-855-282-7770
Security (or to request a Safe Walk): local 7654 or 1-855-239-7654
UFV Disability Resource Centre
To ask a question or set up an appointment: 604-854-4528
REPORTING AN INCIDENT:
IN THE COMMUNITY
VictimLinkBC – anywhere in BC (24-hour, toll-free information, support and referral line for victims)
“…a safe and confidential service where you can discuss your experience and decide what to do” (from www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/bcs-criminal-justice-system/if-you-are-a-victim-of-a-crime/victim-services)
Victim Services – Abbotsford
“Victim Services is a non-profit organization that works with community partners to assist victims of crime and tragic circumstances” (from www.victimservices.on.ca)
o Address: 200-1925 McCallum Rd, Abbotsford BC V2S 3N2
REPORTING AN INCIDENT:
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Community Police Office – Chilliwack
Address: 45924 Airport Road, Chilliwack BC V2P 1A2
Abbotsford Police Department
Address: 2838 Justice Way, Abbotsford BC V2T 3P5