Sit­ting down with the Prin­ci­pal

Suzanne Fortier talks men­tal health, sex­ual vi­o­lence, and fen­tanyl

The McGill Daily - - News - Inori Roy & Rayleigh Lee The Mcgill Daily

On Oc­to­ber 27, Prin­ci­pal Suzanne Fortier, Stu­dent Ser­vices Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Mar­tine Gau­thier, and Deputy Provost (Stu­dent Life and Learn­ing) Ol­livier Dyens sat down with cam­pus me­dia to an­swer their ques­tions.

Be­fore the ques­tion pe­riod be­gan, Fortier took the chance to dis­cuss the im­por­tance of re­spect on cam­pus, draw­ing par­al­lels be­tween con­flict and lack of re­spect in the Mcgill con­text and her un­der­stand­ing of the Rwan­dan geno­cide. Speak­ing of her re­cent trip to Ki­gali, cap­i­tal city of Rwanda, Fortier said, “It is im­pres­sive to see a coun­try re­build it­self with a lot of strength and re­silience. [...] it is a re­minder for all of us to be vig­i­lant about re­spect­ing other peo­ple, no mat­ter what they come from, no mat­ter what their re­li­gion is, no mat­ter what their eth­nic­ity is. We need to re­spect peo­ple as equal to us [...] when you go to a place like Ki­gali, or Rwanda in gen­eral, you see what hap­pens when you let go of that vig­i­lance, when you let go of those prin­ci­ples. [...] When­ever [....] a sit­u­a­tion on our cam­pus where I see any signs of this hap­pen­ing, I will not be there watch­ing it pas­sively. We all need to stand up, very clearly, to de­fend the prin­ci­ples of our univer­sity. [...] As prin­ci­pal, there is no role in my job that is more im­por­tant than pro­tect­ing the prin­ci­ples of our univer­sity and mak­ing sure that peo­ple who come to our univer­sity can be as­sured that they will be treated with re­spect.”

Bull and Bear (B&B): In September of this year, your­self and Deputy Provost Ol­livier Dyens came into a SSMU se­nate cau­cus to ad­vo­cate against the idea of a fall read­ing week. Why, in your opinion, should Mcgill be one of the only ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties in Canada to not have a fall read­ing week?

Suzanne Fortier (SF): We are not sim­i­lar to many uni­ver­si­ties in that many stu­dents come from out­side of the im­me­di­ate com­mu­nity. [...] If you start the se­mes­ter early or end it later, it has an im­pact on a very large pro­por­tion of our stu­dents, and [...] when we con­sult the stu­dents, we don’t have unan­i­mous views on whether or not, and how to do it. Some stu­dents are wor­ried about pay­ing rent in Au­gust, or not hav­ing enough time for their hol­i­day break any­way. [...] It’s not prac­ti­cal, this is not a cause for us be­cause of prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, and par­tic­u­larly [what] the stu­dents we con­sult share with us.

Mcgill Daily (MD): We re­cently re­cieved a con­cern­ing email re­gard­ing Mcgill Men­tal Health Ser­vices. The au­thor says, “Mcgill has just about elim­i­nated ac­tual treat­ment ser­vices, espe­cially ex­pert psy­chother­apy ser­vices.[...] Mcgill Men­tal Health psy­chi­a­trists [...] are dis­mayed by re­cent changes, but are too fright­ened to act them­selves, [there­fore] have al­ready left or are plan­ning to leave.” While the new changes in­volved are well in­ten­tioned, stu­dents have also ex­pressed dis­con­tent­ment. How does Mcgill’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­spond?

Ol­livier Dyens (OD): [The au­thor of the let­ter] has had prob­lems at Mcgill, [...] and I think that would give you some per­spec­tive as to who this per­son is. [...] I would find it very in­ter­est­ing that this per­son tells us what to do at Mcgill when this per­son is not at Mcgill, doesn’t know what’s go­ing on at Mcgill [...] I don’t put a lot of value on what this per­son is say­ing, you can look it up for your­self.

Mar­tine Gau­thier (MG): Our coun­selling area is the area that re­ally pro­vides the sup­port for our stu­dents, and we’ve in­creased ca­pac­ity in that area. We’ve in­creased ca­pac­ity for stu­dents, [...] we’re look­ing for dif­fer­ent ways to ex­pand our ser­vices. [...] We’d added two case work­ers [...] we’re also go­ing to be adding triage ad­vi­sors.

Le Delit (LD): So Mcgill’s pol­icy on sex­ual vi­o­lence has been rated a C-, what do you think about this score and how do you plan on mak­ing it higher?

SF: We now have a sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy ap­proved by se­nate, we were one of the first uni­ver­si­ties in this prov­ince to have a pol­icy. [...] It is es­sen­tial to sep­a­rate the sup­port that peo­ple must re­cieve right away when they need it, [...] from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that must oc­cur. When you’re un­der a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, suf­fer­ing, it’s not the time to as­sault you with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

OD: For the first time in our his­tory, there were no re­ported in­ci­dents of sex­ual as­sault at Frosh. Some­how, the things we are do­ing [...] are im­prov­ing. There’s been [...] work­shops across the univer­sity for stu­dents. [...] The Provost has cre­ated an of­fice, we’ve hired an­other per­son, there’s an im­ple­men­ta­tion com­mit­tee that’s been struck, [...] there’s also a com­mit­tee that’s look­ing at a sur­vey [...] these two groups will come to­gether, tell us their rec­om­men­da­tions on how to im­ple­ment many of the rec­om­men­da­tions. My con­cern is not how we com­pare to other uni­ver­si­ties, my con­cern is hav­ing the best, safest, most wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment for ev­ery­one. ‘

Mcgill Tri­bune (MT): In an email you sent to the en­tire stu­dent body, you an­nounced an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of an­ti­semetism at this most re­cent Gen­eral As­sem­bly. Can you ex­pand on the man­date of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and also ver­ify whether you are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether SSMU breached it’s char­ters or by­laws?

SF: It’s an al­le­ga­tion [of an­ti­semetism], and we have to do the fair thing, and in­ves­ti­gate. But I think we have to ask our­selves, how many peo­ple on our cam­pus are sub­jected to sit­u­a­tions that are dis­crim­i­na­tory, dis­re­spect­ful, and so that’s a longer piece of work that we need to do, and that’s why the task force has been set up. [...] We have a per­son with whom we will dis­cuss the ex­act process of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the scope of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. [...] If a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion oc­curred where all the women had been voted out, I would do the same thing.

B&B: Given the fen­tanyl cri­sis that’s cur­rently go­ing on, what steps have been taken to ad­dress the Quebec govern­ment’s pol­icy on who can dis­trib­ute Nalox­one kits?

MG: Dr. Hashana Perera, who is our direc­tor of Health Ser­vices, has been very ac­tive on this front, and ac­tu­ally be­gan prepa­ra­tions this sum­mer as she saw the trend mov­ing east. So this week we ac­tu­ally fin­ished train­ing, we have as of this week trained a hun­dred peo­ple to ac­tu­ally ad­min­is­ter Nalox­one. [...] Our Mcgill Stu­dent Emer- gency Re­sponse Team (MSERT), [...] se­cu­rity, [...] floor fel­lows, [...] res­i­dence life man­agers, [...] night stew­ards. We have over 100 [...] an­ti­dotes on cam­pus.

MD: Is­sues of al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault against a Mcgill pro­fes­sor have been un­re­spon­sive, rel­a­tively, and stu­dents in­ves­ti­gat­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence at Mcgill are con­stantly be­ing stopped by the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Hold­ing abu­sive pro­fes­sors ac­count­able is just as im­por­tant as in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions of an­ti­semetism, why is this not tak­ing place?

SF: Peo­ple at this univer­sity are not fully aware of the laws of our coun­try and prov­ince, re­gard­ing pri­vacy and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. [...] When it comes to ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, there are cer­tain things that are to be kept pri­vate. You will not hear about in­ves­ti­ga­tions [...] the ab­sence of in­for­ma­tion does not mean the ab­sence of in­ves­ti­ga­tion. [...] If peo­ple ask us ques­tions that we can­not an­swer, pub­licly, that is be­cause we have pri­vacy leg­is­la­tion that we must abide by.

B&B: Ac­ces­si­bil­ity is a ma­jor con­cern for stu­dents with in­juries, or sim­ply mo­bil­ity is­sues on cam­pus. What can be done to im­prove ac­ces­si­bil­ity on cam­pus?

MG: In our OSD, Mcgill rein­vested al­most a mil­lion dol­lars. [...] We hired a num­ber of po­si­tions, among them an ac­ces­si­bil­ity of­fi­cer. [He] knows our cam­pus very, very well, and is work­ing with an­other ad­vi­sor, who is a gen­tle­man who uses a wheel­chair, and to­gether they have been [...] iden­ti­fy­ing ar­eas that could be im­proved through very sim­ple meth­ods.

MD: You men­tioned that while we dont hear about [in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­gard­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence], it doesn’t mean that there is no in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But we’re talk­ing about mul­ti­ple fac­ul­ties, with a range of—

SF: Let me put it very sim­ply. If there is an al­le­ga­tion, a se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tion, we do in­ves­ti­gate. I don’t want to talk about a spe­cific case here. I’ll talk in gen­eral. If there’s a se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tion, we will in­ves­ti­gate. Now, we will in­ves­ti­gate in the con­text in which we live, which has a re­spect for pri­vacy, and a re­spect for [...] uni­ver­sal jus­tice. [...] Some­times peo­ple in so­ci­ety in gen­eral, and at Mcgill, want to have a pub­lic dis­clo­sure when this is not al­lowed, not per­mit­ted, and not ap­pro­pri­ate.

MD: Yes, I agree with you that we should work within the rules, and pri­vacy and rights are very im­por­tant, but at the same time, what we’re see­ing is re­cur­ring pat­terns of pro­fes­sors. It’s al­most be­come com­mon knowl­edge to stu­dents, and—

SF: This is what you’ve heard. [...] If there are se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions, we will look into it [...] within the author­ity that we have in a univer­sity. We are not a court of law. We are a univer­sity. So let’s make sure we un­der­stand where we have author­ity, where we don’t, what we can do, what we can’t. This is the con­text here.

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