UBCO students are frustrated with the lack of transparency and communication regarding the recent news that a psychology professor was placed under regulatory supervision due to “boundary issues” and “sexual harassment.”
Brie Welton is the coordinating editor at The Phoenix, UBCO’s campus newspaper. Welton said she has been talking with students over the past few days since the news of professor Dr. Stephen Porter’s regulatory supervision was released, and students are beginning to worry since an official statement has not yet been released from the university.
According to a statement issued by the College of Psychologists, Porter was placed under regulatory supervision for 18 months, with a particular focus on boundary issues, power differentials, sexual harassment, professionalism and doing no harm.
“Some people knew rumours, but since there’s been no official statement from UBC, everyone’s been in the dark,” said Welton.
UBCO implemented a sexual assault and sexual misconduct policy (Policy 131) last May and then in December hired a director to open a sexual assault and prevention office. That office is located in a building that houses student support services.
However, students say there has been little information released about the office’s location or that it was even open.
Jaclyn Salter, who is a coordinator at the university’s Women’s Resource Centre and a student, said she hadn’t received an official announcement that the office was open, nor that a director had been hired. She only had a rough timeline of the events which she called “frustrating.”
Welton has also spoken with students who say they were unaware that Porter was placed under supervision or that a sexual assault and prevention office is open on campus.
“I talked to a student yesterday who said ‘I’m surprised this is still happening,’ especially since UBC made a big deal about policy 131 last year and then had an external organization come in and ask Porter to step aside and then still make no comments. Students aren’t happy with the procedure and there’s a lot of unanswered questions,” she said.
Related: UBCO creates offices to address sexual assault
Welton was unaware of the office’s opening until Wednesday.
“There’s been no advertising, no one knows about it, it’s hidden in the bottom of one of the residence buildings and I’m not entirely sure which building it is,” she said.
She was also not impressed with the lack of response from UBC or the university’s student union.
“I’m really looking for a public statement, if not from UBC itself, at least from its student union. As our student union, it’s who we turn to in situations like this, silence from them is almost worse than silence from UBC.”
Student Union of UBC Okanagan president Trophy Eliwa said a statement about the incident would be issued Thursday afternoon (past press deadline) and there has been delays in releasing a statement because UBCO has not released more information to the union.
“On a personal note, sexual assault, especially being in a position of power, should not be an excuse for wrong to happen,” said Eliwa. “I think it would be best if the student union would be more proactive in highlighting the services we have to prevent that… the sexual assault prevention office I did not know about… It’s not easy to come out and have the confidence to go out and report the incidents that are there.”
Welton said there will be an information session on Jan. 24 about the sexual assault policy and office, but the announcement wasn’t made until after her interview with another media outlet.
However, Sara-Jane Finlay, associate vice-president for the equity and inclusion office for UBCO, said email notifications and announcements on the university’s website can be found regarding the sexual assault policy and prevention office.
“Throughout the time the policy has been in place, there has been clear information on where (students) can go to make disclosures and to receive assistance,” she said.
A communication did go out at the beginning of the summer and in September about the policy and the office, she said. An information session was not held in December because it was during an exam period and January is Sexual Awareness Month, so raising awareness is important, said Finlay.
“It’s not the intention to hide it at all, we really want it to be something people can access and feel comfortable accessing,” she said.
At the campus newspaper, Welton heard incidents first-hand with students who were potentially assaulted or harassed and didn’t know where to go.
“I’m concerned because I talked to a lot of students who said they wouldn’t know what to do in that situation,” she said
Porter is not allowed to supervise students, researchers, and volunteers and must provide letters of apology to unnamed complainants.
According to UBCO, Porter “has agreed to step aside from his teaching duties. He will continue to be engaged in his other academic responsibilities.”
And “for privacy reasons, we cannot further discuss the details of individual personnel matters.”
The details of the incident or incidents have not been released by UBCO. On UBCO’s website, Porter’s list of teaching includes forensic psychology, psychopathy, violence and personality theory.
Porter did not return Capital News requests for comment that were made through email and phone calls.