The number of harassment and discrimination reports increased slightly in 2014-15, according to the Equity and Human Rights Services annual report.
There were 365 contacts made to EHRS. Of those, 167 were from individuals who felt they had been subject to or witnessed discrimination or harassment, and 198 contacts were for information requests.
In comparison, last year there were 352 contacts — 164 from individuals who felt they had been subject to or witnessed this behaviour and 188 that were for more information.
EHRS is available to the entire Western community and deals with developing, implementing and managing Western’s non-discrimination and harassment policy. All the services are confidential.
“Our goal is to help promote and foster a working and academic environment free of harassment [and] discrimination,” said Larissa Bartlett, director of EHRS.
“I would say that the increase in the number of reported incidents doesn’t necessarily translate into an increase in incidents overall,” said Alex Benac, University Students’ Council vice-president internal. “What it could actually be more reflective of is a campus environment that’s shifting away from hiding those things, keeping those things to yourself and actually bringing them forward and reporting them.”
Bartlett said the increase in reported incidents may be due to an increase of awareness. Increased awareness may have made individuals understand that what happened to them constituted harassment or discrimination, as well as awareness of where to go for support.
EHRS distinguishes between code and non-code based harassment. Code based harassment includes discrimination and harassment on grounds of: race (eight reports), sex (37), religion (nine), disability (21), family status (one) and gender identity (two). Non-code based harassment includes workplace harassment (25), conflict (30) and personal harassment (16).
EHRS contacted Campus Police 19 times last year. Bartlett said they are contacted when the individual coming forward feels they have been threatened and there is a safety concern.
An issue still facing EHRS is the lack of use by undergraduate students. Staff and graduate students use the services more although there are far fewer of them than undergraduates. Bartlett said this is likely due to a lack of undergraduate awareness of the service and that many first-year undergraduates are in residence and have other support services available to them.
A new initiative this year for the University is the implementation of a sexual violence prevention education coordinator. The role was created though a grant by the Ontario Women’s Directorate through collaboration with the USC, Society of Graduate Students, multiple campus units and nine other post-secondary institutions in Ontario. EHRS will refer students to this new coordinator if they think she will be able to better help them.
Angela Treglia started in this position last month, although she has eight years of experience working in the office of residence education and programs as a programming coordinator.
“I think as a society there’s always more that we can be doing and I think it’s a call to action not just for administration or the University Students’ Council, but I think for the members of [the] Western community to think about how we can all step up, step in and do something to prevent harm to each other,” Treglia said.
Those wishing to contact Treglia can find her in the Wellness Education Centre in the basement of the University Community Centre, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from Drishti Kataria