The students behind a planned Take Back the Night event at the University of British Columbia say administrators are contributing to “rape culture” on campus.
Emily Monaghan and Rain are organizing the rally and march, which is scheduled to take place on Wednesday evening (October 30). In a joint interview, they told the Georgia Straight that UBC has reacted to a string of sexual assaults by sending out a message that amounts to—in their words—“Don’t get raped.”
“All the onus is on women to protect ourselves and our bodily autonomy,” Monaghan, a first-year environmental sciences student, said over the phone from the Alma Mater Society’s Womyn’s Centre. “Yet there is no question of why these assaults are taking place and why sexism is so prevalent on campus, and there is no initiative for dialogue about sexualized violence on campus. It’s not happening in the classrooms, and it’s not happening within the institution itself.”
In the past month, the university detachment of the RCMP has alerted the public to the sexual assaults of three female student residents on campus. The attacks—each perpetuated by an “unknown male”—took place on September 28, October 13, and October 19.
The RCMP and UBC are scheduled to hold a news conference today (October 29) at noon to provide an update on the sexual assault investigations.
Both Monaghan and Rain said that they have heard “victim-blaming” in the university’s and RCMP’s messaging, as well as from some male students on campus. Rain, a fourth-year gender studies and sociology student, noted that one of the main messages emanating from UBC is “Don’t walk alone at night.”
Indeed, in her October 25 update for the campus community, UBC vice-president for students Louise Cowin began: “In the week following the third stranger sexual assault on our campus, I am writing to ask all of you to be extra careful and take important safety precautions in light of ongoing RCMP efforts to apprehend the person(s) behind recent violent attacks.”
However, Cowin did acknowledge that UBC is aware of concerns like those expressed by the Take Back the Night event organizers.
“Finally, members of our community are reminding us to be careful in our response not to ‘blame the victim.’ There is an important discussion to be had around violence against women: what causes it, what enables it, what perpetuates it and what will really defeat it. It is important for this dialogue to continue. But until the attacks stop, we are doing all we can to provide information so you can make choices to ensure your safety,” Cowin wrote in her update.
Monaghan asserted that the university must immediately take steps to address the sexist attitudes of students, professors, and administrators if it is to make the campus safer.
“There is a notion that this is a singular issue and it’s not reflective of the overall dominant culture on campus, which is not the case,” Monaghan said. “There have been many incidents—not of sexual assault, per say, but of harassment and sexism, especially against women.”
In September, UBC made headlines when it was revealed that Sauder School of Business students sang a “rape chant” during the Commerce Undergraduate Society’s frosh activities.
Wednesday’s Take Back the Night rally and march will kick off at the Museum of Anthropology at 5 p.m. The organizers said there will be an open mic and everyone—including “male allies”—is encouraged to attend.
“It’s going to be a very emotional and provoking event,” Monaghan said. “I think it’s going to be a good experience for people, and people should definitely come out.”