CAUCUS ON WOMEN’S ISSUES
TOWN HALL MEETING
FRIDAY, APRIL 13TH, 2007
Bonnie MacLachlan, chair, called the meeting to order at 7:00 PM and laid the ground rules for the evening. The purpose of the meeting was to a) share how we have all been affected by the Gazette article and b) think how to move forward. It was not designed to target men in any way. Each speaker was limited to 5 minutes, and could speak only once. Written minutes of the meeting will be posted on the web with no names attached. Bonnie also pointed out that UC 203 was available post-meeting for people who wished to continue the discussion; there were trauma counselors on site as well.
Paul Davenport (President, UWO) introduced the administrative team. He then stressed three points: a) he acknowledged the strong community of feelings round this issue and stated we would not tolerate this kind of denigration; b) men in the administration must be front and centre on this; c) such journalism damages the reputation of Western and stated the ‘hands-off’ policy was not acceptable.
Fred Longstaffe (Provost, UWO) stated that more needs to be done and acknowledged steps are being taken. We need to develop the kind of culture at UWO in which a repeat of this episode would be unthinkable, and the administration must work with groups to ensure the kind of environment necessary.
Roma Harris (Vice-Provost, Academic Programs & Students) has over 30 years of feminist and social activist experience in London. She stressed her male colleagues do listen and take action; then outlined some strategies for dealing with the Gazette Apr 1st issue (these were suggested in conjunction with the USC):
• An apology from the Gazette and from the USC
• A journalistic code of ethics for the Gazette must be put in place
• A permanent advisory board is needed for the Gazette
• A more robust governing framework of the USC over the Gazette is also needed
• An appeals mechanism
• annual diversity training and training in media ethics for the Gazette staff
• A ban on further Sex or Spoof issues (this was met with applause)
Roma stressed the USC had moved quickly on this issue, and that she will stand by the USC.
Larissa Bartlett (Acting Director, Equity Services, UWO). She stated this issue raises serious concerns about the culture on campus. Equity Services will institute a review of how the office handles complaints and produce a report.
Fab Dolan (President, USC). He assured the audience that USC takes the concerns raised by the Gazette issue very seriously, and apologized on behalf of both the USC and the Gazette. He asked, how did this happen?— and explained the Gazette possessed editorial freedom in the past: with every good intention, the USC felt that autonomy of the student paper was very important. The USC is the Gazette’s employer, provided them with funds and staff members, and also legal support. He also alerted the audience to a media release in which Gazette editor-in-chief Ian Van Den Hurk apologized. What are the solutions? He outlined several recommendations:
• USC has made a donation of $1500 to the London Sexual Assault Center
• That funds be allocated to the VP Campus Issues to address the issues and bring some awareness to campus
• the need for a journalistic code of ethics for the Gazette
• the need for ethics and sensitivity training for members of Gazette staff (paid for by the USC)
• that a formal complaints process be put into place on the Gazette and USC websites
• that a procedure be put into place by which the editor-in-chief of the Gazette may be removed by student vote
• that a study group (and student surveys) for improving paper quality and accountability be put into place; and that this group examine whether there is any need or desire for specialty issues like the Sex or Spoof issues. This report would not be ready until the fall term, given that exams are starting up now.
• That the printing schedule of the Gazette be revisited: is there really a need for a daily paper? Would producing fewer issues make a better paper?
President Dolan ended with another apology. He also reminded the audience that the USC and Gazette staff were comprised of students and thus were bound to make mistakes.
• Generally expressed their rage, hurt, and horror over the Gazette spoof
• Several speakers wondered why the Gazette editor, or any of the staff, was not present
• Many expressed their frustration over the lack of accountability and responsibility taken by the administration and the USC over this issue
• Even if there is a complaints process, etc., for future issues, who will oversee this?
• The speakers also noted the Gazette’s long history of sexist/homophobic/anti-aboriginal pieces. There are no safeguards in place against these.
• Several speakers reminded the audience the Chief of Police Murray Faulkner’s involvement with and support of centres for abused women or victims of sexual assault (thus the injustice of the slander directed against him by the Gazette article)
• One speaker read from the Canadian Charter of Rights (on the importance of free speech)
• Several students pointed out that if it were not for women’s activism on campus (and in the community) the problems with this piece would not have been addressed by the administration.
• Journalists need to be responsible. One student journalist (from elsewhere) pointed out that they felt bound by the Human Rights Code etc., and expected to be treated like responsible young adults.
• Men and women were encouraged to keep supporting the London Abused Women’s Centre, the Centre for Violence Against Women and Children; the Step-it-Up campaign, and the Take Back the Night march.
• A couple of speakers wondered how much would really change, despite the furor over this piece? — one speaker pointed out that these same issues had come up over thirty years ago.
• Is the Gazette story just the tip of the iceberg? Is there a systemic problem on campus with sexism, misogyny, and homophobia? Is Western the best place for women?
• some speakers connected women's struggles at Western to bigger issues--striking food workers and global issues such as university's complicity in Sudan thought its investment strategies.
• The most powerful moment in the meeting, when a UWO graduate spoke of an event this year when she stepped in to stop a sexual assault by a Soph on a young woman in a residence front hall. This was observed by 10 other Sophs who would not intervene. Because of the speaker's earlier experiences of sexual abuse the event triggered trauma recollections and she has needed intensive therapy. "Why," she concluded, "is it I who needs the therapy?" This was met with immediate applause and a standing ovation.
Open-mike speakers also had the following suggestions:
• That a process be put in place by which the editor-in-chief be held accountable under the student code of conduct.
• That an anti-oppression policy needs to be implemented and drafted for the Gazette
• Kill the Sex and Spoof issues
• Don’t kill the Sex and Spoof issues, but make sure they are written with respect
• That the editor-in-chief be removed immediately
• That the measures applied to the Gazette be applied to ALL campus student publications
• Disband the Gazette completely and start again
• That UWO put more resources into Equity Services and the Department of Women’s Studies
• That Sara Shorten’s piece on ‘dinosaurs’ be re-printed in the Gazette
President Davenport thanked all who had spoken for their frankness and good will. He said he heard three key messages: a) he acknowledged the passion and anger of the statements: those presents feel very deeply about the issues at hand, and he respected those feelings; b) the senior administration needs to be more involved with the student paper, and either the Board or students themselves need more control over fees that go to the Gazette. Finally, c) in addition to the specific Gazette issue, there is a problem with the climate here at Western, and called for help in resolving this. He thanked members of the audience for their vigor, honesty, and passion.
Provost Longstaffe vowed to reform our educational institution and move resources to places where they can be used most effectively.
USC President Dolan thanked everyone again. He stated he had learned a lot this week about the power of words, as well about issues of equity and sexism in the feminist and GLBT communities. He stressed faculty and staff must keep teaching students about these issues; the USC would also do this through W.I.N. and Pride Western. He encouraged us to keep suggesting solutions.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:05 PM.
WRITTEN COMMENTS (submitted by those who did not speak at the mike):
Below are a sample of some of the written comments received:
“The Gazette serves a useful purpose on campus and it needs some autonomy, but oversight by a community board”
“The editor made a mistake, he should have been present to apologize”
“Removal of the editor and editorial board is necessary if real change is to happen”
“The Westernizer should be subject to the same standards as the Gazette (what about those Palasad ads??)”
“I have no confidence the USC will respond in a meaningful way to student complaints; no action was taken despite numerous complaints about the Palasad ads.”
“Is the Gazette part of the Canadian University Press, the governing body for quality student newspapers? This organization offers conferences, journalistic standards, training and regularly monitors member papers. Check it out: www.cup.ca”
“The editor and editorial board needs to be held accountable; they owe the women depicted and the Chief of Police personal apologies.”
“The town hall was very useful and I thank all the organizers and those who came; perhaps there should be a follow-up town hall to discuss progress on this issue”
“I’m not sure the president of the USC “got it”; what he did get is an important lesson in spin doctoring!”
"A critical analysis of Gazette articles and editorials [is needed] to track/identify the pattern of sexist, racist, homophobic activities (paid for by USC but independent of USC). Then make the results public – along with what this says about the Gazette's so-called journalism and ethics."
There were many calls for the resignation/firing of the editor-in-chief and much disappointment that he was not there to personally apologize
There were many who expressed disappointment in the Gazette, but argued that a student paper serves a very useful role and should continue
(Respectfully submitted by Kelly Olson. Questions or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org)