Carleton University will offer peer support services at a sexual assault centre due to open in September, administrators announced Jan 3.
In an email to the Carleton University community, Equity Services director Linda Capperauld said the centre will operate as a non-medical model “with student-centred services at its core.”
The announcement came the day before the Coalition for a Carleton Sexual Assault Centre was to present at the board of governors meeting, advocating for student-run, peer support services.
The plans to open the centre come in the wake of a recent surge of assaults on campus and years of student lobbying for a student-run centre.
Initially, the centre was presented as a university-run service that would employ medical professionals, but student groups and some faculty were unhappy with the proposal.
Coalition member Julie Lalonde says the coalition was told the centre would not use peer support and students would have no decision-making power.
Professor Jennifer Evans says agreeing to student-run peer support is a step, but students deserve equal power in running the centre.
“Students have proven they are organized, responsible and dedicated to anti-violence education and services,” she says. “They have earned a voice in decision making.”
The peer-support model benefits queer students, says Dillon Black, an organizer with Fierce!Ottawa, a collective for queer, trans and feminist activists.
Currently, students can receive counselling at Equity Services or Health and Counselling Services, but neither can adequately support queer students, Black says.
“[The staff] might have counselling degrees, but they might not have experience with queer and trans people,” they* say.
Queer people experience disproportionate rates of violence, but their experiences are often trivialized and invalidated by mainstream medical professionals, they say.
Lalonde agrees that this is a concern with the medical model.
“The people at Health and Counselling are really out of touch with what queer people are experiencing,” she says.
The medical model is particularly alienating for queer students, considering the history of pathologizing the community, Black says.
“The only place for queer people to really go [on campus] is the GLBTQ Centre,” they say, noting that staff members at the GLTBQ Centre go through active-listening and safer-space training and can offer peer-to-peer services to students.
Though there is no programming in place yet, Black says the university needs to work with student groups and undergo more complex training to provide appropriate services to queer students.
* Dillon Black does not identify as male or female and wishes to be referred to as “they.”