As Concordia University is rocked by allegations of sexual assault and harassment within its creative writing program, a wave of support has crossed the country via social media, from west to east.
Noting parallels between the accusations at Concordia and the Steven Galloway case at the University of British Columbia's creative writing program, complainants and others involved in the UBC case have been reaching out to Concordia students and alumni.
In both cases, there are allegations of sexual impropriety, power imbalance and an unhealthy environment.
For years, the stories from Concordia have been whispered – and in fact written about. Even if previous articles didn't explicitly mention Concordia, it wasn't difficult to figure it out; people in the know knew. This week, after former Concordia creative writing student Mike Spry published a mea culpa for his complicity – kicking off another social-media storm – the issue caught the university administration's attention. (And yes, it took a man's essay to finally get some traction, I am not the first to note.)
Concordia president Alan Shepard, in a statement Tuesday, said he was disturbed by the allegations. On Wednesday, he announced that an investigation was being launched into the allegations as well as a university-wide assessment of the current environment. He urged people to report any instances of inappropriate conduct.
Some complainants in the Galloway case, however, are cautioning women about reporting.
"As the system is now, I can't recommend it," Chelsea Rooney told The Globe and Mail. "A university asks for your stories of abuse in order to protect themselves from liability. They want to see how much they're on the hook for."
Ms. Rooney, an ancillary complainant in the Galloway case, tweeted about an "incredible" power imbalance.
"Universities are corporations," she wrote. "Your legal action against them sets a precedent that could lead ultimately to their demise. They must do everything they can to prove they are not responsible for your abuse. Often this means denying your abuse occurred."
Mr. Galloway, a bestselling novelist, lost his job as a professor and head of UBC's creative writing program after he was accused of sexual assault and harassment.
He was fired without severance, despite an independent investigator's findings that all but one of the allegations were unsubstantiated, including sexual assault. In a statement released through his lawyer, Mr. Galloway said he had an affair with the main complainant. She countered in a statement released through her lawyer that her allegation was not about a consensual relationship. Several ancillary complainants alleged bullying and harassment. Arbitration is still underway in the case, even as a new chair, Alix Ohlin, has taken over. Mr. Galloway has declined to comment throughout; he has signed a confidentiality agreement.
UBC's process has been slammed by both complainants and supporters of Mr. Galloway; many of the latter signed a letter calling for due process for Mr. Galloway. The UBC Accountable letter – which was later amended to include a call for fair treatment for all involved, including the complainants – sparked a firestorm in the CanLit community when it was posted online, and it is still a toxic issue, with repeated calls for it to be taken down or for signatories to remove their names.
Ms. Rooney's Twitter advice regarding submitting a formal complaint hit "the nail on the head," tweeted another writer this week, who for the first time identified herself as another complainant in the Galloway case. "The process was, ultimately, horrifying and humiliating. (Most of) my alma mater failed me and all the complainants," tweeted Anna Maxymiw (who also works for Pagemasters North America, an editorial production company that provides services to The Globe and Mail).
Ms. Maxymiw, who declined The Globe's interview request, tweeted that she felt too "adrift," "ruined" and "unsupported" by UBC to go public as a complainant and didn't want to jeopardize a pending book deal. (Her book, The Lodge, will be published by McClelland and Stewart in 2019; she also tweeted that her publisher did not care about her speaking out, as it turns out.)
Sierra Skye Gemma, an ancillary complainant against Mr. Galloway, said she would advise anyone at Concordia or elsewhere to skip reporting to the administration or police – and go to the media instead.
"I have more confidence in investigative journalists than I do in the legal system or the university to protect complainants," she said in an interview. "Most powerful institutions are set up to protect powerful men. They are not interested in victims. … What they care about is protecting and maintaining the status quo. The status quo is them in power and they don't want to give that up."
She added: "It is in the best interest of universities to hide this information, hide any improprieties. They don't want to do anything that's going to jeopardize tuition or donation dollars."
UBC declined to comment for this story.
Concordia urged complainants to come forward. "Following investigation, when warranted, the University does impose disciplinary measures, in certain instances, resulting in dismissal," spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr told The Globe, in an e-mail.
"Concordia isn't an aberration; it's the norm," Ms. Maxymiw tweeted. "Women in the writing world have known stuff like this for years. Our lives are obstacle courses. But I stand in solidarity with these women coming forward in canlit. #metoo, finally."
When asked if she thought UBC would have handled the Galloway case differently in the #metoo era, Ms. Gemma laughed and said yes. And she indicated that this reckoning is not over.
"More names are coming. Concordia's not the only place. There are other men who are repeat offenders who will be named in the literary community. Your time is up," she said. "Just like Oprah [said]. Time is up for those predators. Their reign has come to an end."