Toronto Star

Concordia head ‘disturbed’ by sex allegation­s

Blog led others to speak out on ‘toxic’ culture in school’s creative writing program

- ALLAN WOODS

MONTREAL— The president of Concordia University says he is “disturbed” by published allegation­s of sexual misconduct against members of the school’s creative writing program.

Alan Shepard’s statement was prompted by an online essay by writer and Concordia graduate Mike Spry which alleged there was a “toxic” culture at the school he began attending in 2004, whereby male faculty engaged in inappropri­ate relationsh­ips with female students.

“As a student at Concordia I was witness to the abuse of power and the normalizat­ion of sexualizat­ion of students by professors, writers, edi- tors, and publishers,” Spry wrote.

He said he was present the night that a professor and writer, whom he did not identify, went home with a younger student after a drunken night out. He also wrote of a writer and Concordia faculty member who rented a hotel room during a literary festival to “entertain young writers away from his house and family.”

“I have been witness to and made aware of innumerabl­e instances of unwanted affection, groping, inappropri­ate remarks and propositio­ns,” Spry wrote.

Shepard said in a statement released late Monday night: “I am disturbed by what I read in the blog post. These allegation­s are serious and will be treated seriously.”

The statement urged people to report sexual violence and misconduct to a university body that deals with “behavioura­l incidents and conflicts on campus.”

Spry’s essay prompted several former female students to come forward about their experience­s on social media. Many also criticized the Montreal university’s approach to issues they said were chronic and wellknown in the creative writing program.

In an October 2014 essay, Torontobas­ed poet Emma Healey, a Concordia graduate, told of her experience at the age of 19 with a 34-year-old faculty member, whom she did not name. They dated for a year while she was at the school. She wrote that he forced himself on her one night after they had broken up.

Award-winning Montreal fiction writer Heather O’Neill, a Concordia graduate, also weighed in on the allegation­s, saying the problems have lingered for nearly two decades.

“I’ve been talking about sexual misconduct at Concordia since I attended circa 1999” she wrote on Twitter.

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