Dear members of the University of Guelph community:
I am writing to you all today to share some important information. During the last several months, the University of Guelph has been working diligently to review our policies and procedures related to sexual violence. Today, the University is sharing two important reports containing recommendations that will help us chart our path forward. In addition to making our policies and processes clear and effective, we want to create a University culture that supports safety, openness, transparency and accountability around the issue of sexual violence. We want to ensure that the measures we take today have a lasting impact on our leadership, culture and campus response to sexual violence for generations.
The first report we are sharing today is from the Sexual Violence Task Force (Sexual Violence Task Force Report); a group made up of both internal and external members. By way of background, the task force was created in 2019 following a provincial directive to all post-secondary institutions. The task force’s mandate was to review and offer recommendations on U of G’s sexual violence policies, processes and educational programming. Their report was received by the Board of Governors in the late fall 2020.
The second report was completed by an external firm, McLaren Global Sport Solutions (McLaren Global Sports Solutions Report). McLaren was commissioned to provide an independent review of policies and processes in the Department of Athletics. The firm was retained as a direct result of the firing of the University’s track and field coach, David Scott-Thomas.
In late 2019, the University received a complaint against Scott-Thomas. During a subsequent investigation, we received new information about Scott-Thomas involving past inappropriate sexual behaviour toward a student athlete more than 10 years ago. This led to our decision to terminate our relationship with Scott-Thomas on December 17, 2019.
I was shocked and angered by the revelations that were brought to our attention in 2019 about Scott-Thomas’s behaviour and his breach of trust. In my 30+ years as an educator, this has been one of the most difficult situations that I have encountered. I felt — and continue to feel — a deep sense of responsibility to take corrective action.
These events led to many conversations across campus by our community, which focused on where we went wrong and how we can do better. I want to stress that the University of Guelph does not tolerate such conduct or behaviour. It is inconsistent with our core values and beliefs and is a violation of our codes of conduct. The well-being of our students, our faculty and our staff is a priority for everyone at the University, and our actions are intended to provide an environment for students, faculty and staff that is safe, respectful and supportive for everyone.
Notwithstanding how difficult this past year has been for our U of G community, particularly for our student-athletes, we are working through this challenging situation. I am thankful for the advice and support the University leadership team has received from faculty, staff and students and the Board of Governors on this issue, in addition to the general input from the U of G community. I hope that our actions over this past year demonstrate our determination to do better and to rebuild your trust.
The recommendations stemming from both reports are broad reaching; we will identify and remedy gaps in our policies and procedures relating to sexual violence, harassment, discrimination, and abuse of power.
Indeed, recent high-profile cases of sexual violence, including at our own University, and international movements such as #MeToo have drawn attention to the impacts of sexual violence, abuse of power and discrimination, and the need for increased vigilance and action.
We need to do more, and we need to do better. Combatting sexual violence requires communal, collaborative action, including involvement from units and departments across our campus.
Our goal is to provide a University environment that minimizes the number of incidents; has clear policies and processes in place to address issues promptly and effectively; and ensures people feel comfortable and confident seeking support should they experience sexual violence, discrimination, abuse of power, or other inappropriate behaviour, relationships or situations.
To help co-ordinate our response, we have created a new Sexual Violence Steering Committee. This committee will be chaired by our provost and vice-president (academic), Dr. Gwen Chapman, and will include students, faculty and staff. Among other things, this new committee will oversee and co-ordinate the implementation of recommendations from both the University’s Sexual Violence Task Force and those from the McLaren Global Sport Solutions report. The committee will also identify gaps, make suggestions for change, and initiate actions that will help us build a safer and more inclusive campus. In addition, a working group has been created in the Department of Athletics to support the implementation of the McLaren recommendations. This working group will report to and be accountable for its activities through the Sexual Violence Steering Committee. The Sexual Violence Steering Committee will provide regular updates to the president and the Board of Governors.
I would like to highlight pertinent recommendations from the two reports.
Key recommendations from the Sexual Violence Task Force include:
• Addressing safety and security needs of groups statistically known to experience higher prevalence of sexual violence
• Assessing the University’s sexual violence education and training programs
• Reviewing the University’s complaint process
• Ensuring that education and support initiatives focus on safe disclosure and reporting and provide information and support for survivors
As a part of its review, McLaren Global Sport Solutions engaged with staff, coaches, student-athletes and administrators through a combination of interviews and surveys. In developing recommendations, the team contextualized the review of current athletic policies and practices within the broader U of G policy framework, as well as conducted a comparative analysis of existing policies at other Canadian universities.
Key recommendations include the following:
• Ensuring the integration of the Student-Athlete Code of Conduct with the Policy on Non-Academic Misconduct and creating a single adjudication process
• Ensuring the Coaches Code of Conduct is integrated with other University policies
• Developing a clearly defined and accessible process for student-athletes and coaches to confidentially report complaints
• Implementing a structured performance evaluation for all coaches
• Providing mandatory sexual violence and bystander intervention training for all student-athletes, coaches, and other support personnel.
As we review these recommendations, it should be noted that they are suggested within our current policy context, which has evolved during the last two decades. During this period, the University has implemented and updated numerous policy and procedural changes related to sexual violence, sexual harassment and safe disclosure. These policies and associated procedures provide multiple channels for complaints to come forward.
These include U of G’s:
• Human Rights Policy (revised 2016)
• Workplace Harassment and Prevention Policy (revised 2016; reviewed 2020)
• Workplace Violence Prevention Policy (revised 2017; reviewed 2020)
• Sexual Violence Policy (revised 2019)
• Safe Disclosure Policy (effected 2019)
• Policy on Non-Academic Misconduct (revised 2020)
In addition to policy and procedural changes across the University, the Department of Athletics has implemented numerous changes and improvements in recent years, including:
• Coaches Code of Conduct (2016 and updated in 2019)
• Mandatory sexual violence and anti-discrimination training and education for coaches and staff
• New Coaches Employment Agreements and Contracts for Part-time and Volunteer Coaches require sign off on the Coaches Code of Conduct (2016-2018)
• Annual team orientation meetings to review Student Athlete Handbook, Student Athlete Code of Conduct, bystander training and mental health education (2017)
• Improved wellness and counselling programs (2017)
Across the University, we have also launched numerous initiatives. In Fall 2020, we launched a Sexual Violence Support Module for Students. This module is now mandatory for all student-athletes, Student Housing staff, the Student Support Network team and all Peer Helpers. To date over 2,000 members of the U of G community have accessed this module. Next week we are launching the Sexual Violence Support Module for Faculty and Staff. All faculty and staff will be enrolled in the module through Courselink. To date, we have also trained more than 100 faculty and some 535 students in more advanced training related to sexual violence support and response.
The University provides funding through the Campus Safety Grants program to support efforts such as victim support services, safety programs and anti-oppression training. Furthering our commitment to transparency and information sharing, we make our annual campus sexual violence report (students) public. The report for 2019-20 can be accessed here (Sexual Violence Annual Report 2020).
Despite receiving two sets of recommendations and having a solid policy framework, many important steps remain and there is still much to do. U of G’s leaders are committed to doing that work so that future generations of students, faculty and staff can work and study in a safe and positive environment.
I want to thank you for your support as we work together to build a strong culture of safety, transparency and accountability around the issue of sexual violence at the University of Guelph.
Charlotte A.B. Yates
President and Vice-Chancellor