demo3On Wednesday, April 4th, the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) sent an open letter to McGill University calling for an external investigation into how the Office of the Dean of Arts handles complaints against faculty members. In just a couple of days of circulation, the letter was signed by over 2100 individuals. Socialist Fightback Student Association at McGill joined 85 other student groups and associations in endorsing this letter. The support for this campaign was quite impressive. Reflecting the momentum behind the letter, a walk-out was organized by the SSMU External Affairs and the Concordia Student Union (CSU). Over 700 students and professors walked out on April 11th to protest the institutional handling of complaints of sexual violence against professors. The rally included a series of speeches by a variety of students and student representatives.

A Disgusting Track Record

Sexual violence and misconduct on university campuses is nothing new. Students at Concordia and McGill have been trying to get the administrations to take cases of sexual assault seriously for years. While the Concordia administration has been implementing measures to deal with complaints of sexual violence on campus, this proved unsatisfactory to many people. In January of this year,  longstanding accounts of harassment at Concordia resurfaced after former Concordia student, Mark Spry, published an essay describing the toxic atmosphere of sexual violence at Concordia. Spry’s essay followed the disgraceful D minus rating that Concordia received from Our Turn. Our Turn is a student-led, national action plan that in October of 2017 examined the sexual violence policies of 14 universities across Canada.

McGill received a pathetic C- rating by the same evaluation. Following the investigations at Concordia, the SSMU followed suit and on April 4th sent a letter to the university administration regarding the misconduct and sexual violence of five McGill professors. Connor Spencer, the vice-president of external affairs of SSMU, told the CBC that, “The bad behaviour ranges from professors holding office hours in bars, to routinely sleeping with students who are in their classes, to being in abusive relationships with students they're supervising.”

In almost every case of harassment, students who come forward are dismissed or bounced around from one office to another to pursue an extended and complicated complaint process. Those who don’t make a formal complaint are discouraged by this disgusting track record and the lack of support offered by the university. This is simply the outcome of deep-seated inequalities rooted in a system that thrives on the oppression of, not only women, but also people of colour, indigenous people, religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ community.

Capitalism Violates Us All

The widespread nature of these complaints at Canadian universities shows how deeply rooted the oppression of women is in capitalist society. The lack of seriousness shown by university administrations is symptomatic of how pervasive the issue is.

Marxists support every meaningful reform to better the conditions of the working class, including making sure that there is a serious, reliable process to address allegations of sexual violence on our campuses. However, we have no faith in the university administrations, who are more interested in running our universities like private corporations. The SSMU said that if McGIll refuses to meet their demands, it will issue a report to Quebec’s Ministry of Education asking it to intervene. But we cannot go knocking on the door of yet another bureaucracy hoping that this one will represent our interests.

The Quebec Legislative assembly adopted Bill 151 last December requiring higher education institutions to adopt a policy to prevent and fight sexual violence in consultation with, “students, officers and personnel members,” but little has actually changed. SSMU VP external, Connor Spencer expressed her frustration with working with the administration, who has done nothing but give excuses and “push deadlines further and further.”

The real issue is that students and workers have little to no say in the running of their university. Under capitalism, our education is controlled and dominated by business interests. The current board of governors at McGill is stacked with bank execs and corporate elites whose primary goal is to increase profits for their corporate friends. This is why they are always supporting tuition increases and have little interest in seriously addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus. One of the most effective ways to challenge both the corporate agenda and the discriminatory attitudes on our campuses is to build a mass, militant student movement that teaches people in practice that they have a common enemy: the bankers and bosses and their friends in the campus administration and the state.

We demand democratic control of the university through a board that is made up of democratically elected and accountable students, staff and working class representatives from the wider community. This would not only mean that workers and students would be able to rid the university of private and corporate interests, we would also be able to ensure that there is a curriculum that challenges discriminatory and sexist attitudes and an administration that is accountable to the student body and wider community. However, this is ultimately not possible under capitalism. This is why Marxists link the struggle for any meaningful reform to a general fight against the capitalist system.

Demonstrations like the one on Wednesday are the first step towards a more generalized movement that fights for free education and builds resistance to the capitalist system which breeds sexist attitudes and behaviour. Walk-outs, sit-ins and picket-lines provide an opportunity to educate students and workers on campus and combat discriminatory attitudes in order to unite all layers of the oppressed in the struggle to transform society and fight for socialism.

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