Canada: Carleton University Athletic Teams Say No To Sexual Violence


The first moments of the 26-second public service announcement are stark: close-up shots of two female and two male members of Carleton University’s (CU) varsity teams speaking in turn.

Against the background of a stripped-down piano score that moves from discordant high notes to lower chords, the student athletes’ words verge on the foreboding: “Hey, you. Yes, you”; “Carleton Ravens say No”; “Say No”; “To sexual violence”.

Produced by the varsity players who volunteered for a programme to combat sexual and gender-based violence both on and off campus, the announcement exemplifies the philosophy behind CU’s new Champions for Change (CfC) programme.

The idea of creating a public sector announcement that would be shown at the Ravens’ football games, as well as its words and tenor, were the students. Even more importantly, as the announcement’s last words make clear, the CfC’s central message is that students have the responsibility to “hold one another accountable” to combat sexual and gender-based violence.

The CfC programme goes beyond what every student at Carleton learns in orientation about CU’s policies against sexual and gender-based violence, the legal requirement in Canada for consent by all parties engaging in sexual relations, what actions constitute sexual harassment and sexual violence, and what resources are available on campus to someone who has experienced harassment or sexual violence.

“Despite both campus sexual violence policies and the Criminal Code and other legislation, we know that sexual violence and gender-based violence are issues that persist in our society and not just on campuses,” says Bailey Reid, CU’s senior advisor for gender and sexual violence prevention and co-creator of the CfC programme with JR LaRose, a former professional football player in the Canadian Football League.

Reid says: “Champions for Change differs because it is about creating prevention. We know that not all criminal justice responses work. Not all survivors want to engage in the criminal justice process.

“So we’re trying to tackle it from the root cause. Rather than address it with policy after the fact, we want to think about how to prevent sexual and gender-based violence from happening in the first place.”

What the statistics say

Although CU’s reported numbers of sexual assaults in 2021, the last year for which numbers are available, are low – 90 ‘informal disclosures’ and four ‘formal reports’, 23 of which were for on-campus incidents – these figures tell only a small part of the story, as both Ontario’s 2018 ‘Student Voices on Sexual Violence’ survey and the ‘Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Alberta Post-Secondary Education’ survey released last month, show.

Ontario’s survey showed that province-wide, 23% of university students and 17% of college students had been victims of sexual assault during the 2017-18 academic year. Twenty-six percent of CU’s students responded that they were victims of at least one non-consensual sexual experience.

Alberta’s survey asked students not about the past year but about their post-secondary career. It found that almost 45% of Alberta’s post-secondary students who identified as ‘straight’ had been sexually harassed or assaulted since entering college or university.

The Alberta study shows, also, that the rates of sexual and gender-based violence endured by the LGBTQIA+ communities are even higher than for the straight community. Sixty-three percent of lesbians, for example, were victims of sexual and gender-based violence since entering college or university: the figure for bisexuals was 66%, 59% for gays, 74% for queers and 60% for questioning.

Fatima Ramadan, a third-year student majoring in linguistics and minoring in Japanese and psychology, told University World News that while she has not been sexually assaulted, she has been harassed by males both inside and outside of organized sports.

Speaking of her female friends’ experiences, she introduced an issue not directly addressed by either the Ontario or Alberta studies: sexual manipulation (though it is possible that some respondents had this in mind when they answered the question about harassment).

Sexual manipulation occurs, she says, “when you are trying to trick the other person into believing that they want what you want, whether they do or do not. Let’s say there is a situation where you do not want to engage in a sexual act with a person or partner, but that person constantly nags: ‘But tonight, let me just do this.’ You’re not necessarily into this act, but just don’t want to deal with what comes with the nagging. So, in the end, you just agree. That’s manipulation.”

A different perspective

The CfC programme takes place in four-hour segments over three mornings in sessions when the male and female athletes are together and in sessions segregated by gender. The sessions when the males and females are together include explanations of the statistics, asking the athletes themselves to give real-life examples and watching videos.

Since he’s in his third year studying criminology, football player Shamond Carlisle was not overly surprised at the statistics around sexual assault. What surprised him was hearing that some females are frightened for their safety if they go out alone at night.

“They can’t go out on a walk, even if there are two women together. They feel it’s not safe,” he told University World News. It sucks that they can’t go. They feel they need to do everything before night time because during the night it becomes scary for them.”

For her part, Ramadan was struck by how some of the males in the room were affected by both the statistics and the stories they heard in the videos and from their female varsity peers.

“It was an opportunity for them to learn and open their minds to how it’s a lot more than gender-based violence against women. It was great for them to be able to sit down and listen and hear a different [female] point of view. Some didn’t know the statistics were so high and what was causing these numbers. They realised that men who don’t stand up [against sexual and gender-based violence] are part of the problem.”

Both Carlisle and Ramadan discussed the importance of language, that is, how males speak about and to women and vice versa.

“One of the most important parts of the workshop was when we discussed ‘normalised language’.” Referring to males’ use of language, Ramadan said: “There’s language that’s used, whether in the locker room or just out and about when you talk to people around you about women that normalises negative views of women.

“Sometimes people try to pass it off as a joke: ‘We never actually meant to do those things or say those things about people’.”

“But this then evolves into something so much worse. We have to stop it at its root. Small things can slowly build up into bigger issues that could have been prevented at the start,” she says, knowing that it was not necessary to give specific examples of the kind of language to which she was referring.

The meaning of masculinity

The sessions in which the male and female athletes were segregated were quite different. According to Ramadan, her session focused on the support available for women, especially at CU.

“We also discussed how it was really important for us to help each other and to help people outside the CU Ravens community.” Central to this, she says, is “getting to know the people around you so that they know the kind of knowledge we have and that they can feel safe speaking to us”.

Carlisle’s group, which was led by LaRose, focused on discussing “masculinity”.

“We talked about what it takes to be a man. So, for example, someone would say to be ‘protective’, says Carlisle.

Carlisle didn’t have to give me an example here either because earlier in our discussion he had told me of an incident in a Montreal nightclub this past summer. Carlisle, who doesn’t drink, was with a few friends and saw a man speaking to a woman who kept stepping back away from him.

“She was talking to him, but she looked scared. Her body language said she was uncomfortable. He’s quick to touch her and she tried to push him away.” Carlisle, who is six-foot tall and 265 pounds, went over to them and interposed himself between them, and then walked her to the table where she had been with some female friends.

“They were both a little drunk, but what he did was still wrong,” he said. (Canadian courts have ruled that being drunk is not a defence against the charge of sexual assault and that someone drunk cannot give consent to a sexual act.)

As discussed under LaRose’s guidance, masculinity had nothing to do with stereotypical ‘macho’ behaviour and even less to do with the kind of behaviour that Donald J Trump showed when it emerged in 2016 while he was a presidential candidate that he had once said in 2005 that because he was a celebrity he could “Grab ’em by the p****” when speaking of the women on the Access Hollywood show.

Rather, Carlisle says: “We discussed how masculinity involves treating others with respect, empathy, responsibility and self-improvement.”

The role of student leaders

Both athletes had a message for their fellow students, both inside and outside North America. Ramadan stressed that the CfC programme provided some of the tools necessary to take a stand against sexual and gender-based violence.

She called on female athletes and other student leaders on other campuses to be “someone your friends can confide in or your teammates can confide in because you have the knowledge and experience and resources to help them”.

Carlisle called on male athletes and other male leaders on campus to make themselves aware of the prevalence and impact of sexual abuse.

“Leaders must have a zero tolerance for sexual violence. They must make it clear that sexual abuse and assault should have no place in any setting,” he says.

He asked student leaders to hold themselves accountable for setting clear expectations on appropriate behaviour and for supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

“I also want to stress the importance of supporting survivors by creating a safe, non-judgmental space for them to come forward and seek help.”

Leaders are responsible for implementing comprehensive training programmes for the teams, for raising awareness about consent, and boundaries and for making clear what respectful behaviour is, says Carlisle.

Earlier, when I asked him, “When you watched the videos depicting sexual violence or heard the female athletes describe their or friends’ experiences, did you think, ‘This could have been my older sister’?”, he simply replied: “I find that even if I didn’t have a sister, I would feel the same way.”

Mmmm mmmm

South Africa: The need for a ‘reflexive humanising pedagogy’ in HE.

A humanising pedagogy is based on Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed, love, justice, restitution and transformation. Such a pedagogy embeds the university’s curriculum, research and social engagement with the critical agency to change people’s living circumstances.

The ‘institutional curriculum’ ought to be at the centre of processes to animate the university with a humanising pedagogy, which suggests a palpable ethical commitment that is given system-wide impetus in the institution.

I fear our humanising intent is being usurped by an untransformed institutional culture that looks away from its ethical commitments, seized by the university’s performative agendas.

Drawing on how I understand these challenges in the South African university, I argue that we require an institutional commitment to drive a social justice agenda from the university’s centre and into all the university’s operations, faculties, departments, teaching, research and societal engagement.

Such an agenda requires universities to reckon with their internal culture and functioning. Institutional power and hierarchy and discrimination continue to be a crucial challenge for centring an ethical pedagogy.

The ‘knowledge question’

The university’s role in society is founded on the question of knowledge and science and its relation to its public good role. The knowledge question is central to how a university deals with its past, present and future identities. The knowledge question is complex. It cannot be reduced to slogans or bullets.

The knowledge question consists of debates on coloniality and decoloniality; race and racism; universality and pluriversality; data, algorithms, cyber-physical systems, digitality, multimodal platforms; and eco-sustainability.

These are not terrains for binary or populist thinking. Care should be taken not to collapse knowledge boundaries and knowledge conceptualisations. The university is a platform for ongoing development of diverse epistemic approaches and centring these into the curriculum.

Infusing a social praxis scholarly orientation

At stake is an all-inclusive ecologies of knowledge approach in all the university’s epistemic domains. The question is how properties of disciplines, modules and programmes in the age of generative AI are constituted and how they are taught and assessed.

Key to the university’s transformational approaches is how these debates inform the institutional curriculum, which involves science, research, curriculum, teaching and learning, societal and community engagement and impact. We must centre these debates, yet how we stage them is vital in defining the university as an ‘inclusive place of public reason’.

I would love the day when the knowledge question is centred in the institutional curriculum, where, for example, the deans of faculties would turn faculties into praxis-driven epistemic engines by devoting time to discussing the knowledge and pedagogical work of the university.

In such a case, the technical dimensions of compliance with rules, regulations and ratings would cease to dominate our institutional culture and render the university open to an institution-wide infusion of a social praxis scholarly orientation.

A ‘reflexive’ pedagogy

Let me turn to a discussion of the outlines of what I’m calling ‘reflexive humanising pedagogy’, a pedagogical turn that speaks to the zeitgeist of the AI (artificial intelligence) and digital platforms moment we find ourselves in.

It also ‘speaks’ to Freire’s call for dialogical, problem-posing pedagogy and placing students at the centre of their intellectual capacitation.

Let me state one of my central claims today: that not getting the university’s institutional curriculum and its institutional culture behind this swing to a reflexive humanising pedagogy will reduce this effort to failure.

Let me harken to the pedagogical response during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journalists screamed that “education ecosystems are now and forever, digital”. Many education academics demurred. They argued that the debate over online and remote education should be understood in the light of higher education’s broader context and functioning.

What emerged from the COVID period is that emergency remote teaching (ERT) entrenched class inequality in higher education.

A consequence of ERT-related inequality was that it brought a myopic view of digital learning to the surface. Because digital learning disadvantaged students, the logic was that online and digital technology must be kept at bay. This is a perspective that must be avoided.

However, the traditional pedagogy of knowledge transfer that still exists within higher education must be confronted in working out a new pedagogical mode.

What is the alternative vision?

Universities now use sophisticated Learning Management System (LMS) platforms – web-based applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet. Materials are being made available via LMS platforms. And we have a very uneven story about the nature of student assessments via these platforms. However, approaches to teaching basically stayed the same.

In other words, while online learning and digital platforms have become ubiquitous, our curriculum knowledge and teaching pedagogies have stayed more or less top-down and didactic. This is associated with what David Tyack and William Tobin described in a 1994 article in the American Educational Research Journal as the “modernist grammar of education” that sits with us and is not easily overturned.

Let’s accept that the “gold standard for teaching and learning remains a traditional didactic pedagogy” and then ask: What’s the alternative vision?

Bill Cope’s and Mary Kalantzis’ work over many years provides a productive schema for developing a reflexive pedagogical approach. Their 2017 book, E-learning Ecologies: Principles of News learning and Assessment, presents a particular account of pedagogy as central to ‘learning ecologies’, a metaphor for learning founded on “an ecosystem consisting of a complex interaction of human, textual, discursive and multimodal dynamics”.

Such an ecosystem would lead to changes in configurations of learning space and relationships as well as knowledge engagement and assessment. Learning transformation, thus, depends on pedagogy’s productive role.

A reflexive pedagogy is founded on disciplined interaction between situating knowledge in context, overt instruction of disciplinary knowledge, and transforming learning into practice. Crucially, reflexive pedagogy is based on lecturing that views students as meaning-makers and designers of social futures.

A radically ‘different’ pedagogy

Reflexive pedagogies imply a radically different conception of pedagogy from what we are used to (see the 2021 article by Aslam Fataar and Najwa Norodien-Fataar). We have been mired in tightly scripted pedagogical orientations associated with our national school and university curriculum.

Traditional pedagogies have failed to provide South Africa with an educational basis to develop students’ intellectual capacity and skills to engage in the world as productive citizens.

And, we may be failing to productively use technology’s capacity for multimodal meaning-making to stimulate students’ intellectual engagement as knowledge producers to secure viable futures.

Reflexive pedagogy is not simply about learning content. Developing the capacity to understand knowledge in context and applying knowledge in novel situations is critical.

This requires a shift from didactic pedagogy, where the balance of control of the learning environment is with the instructor and the focus is on cognition and long-term memory. The dominant version of ‘pedagogy as mimesis’, or knowledge replication, should be ruptured.

Pedagogy as mimesis ought to be systematically scrapped in favour of a reflexive pedagogy that shifts the balance of pedagogical agency to epistemic engagement, whereby knowledge activity between teachers and students and students and students should be dialogical.

Reflexive pedagogy would enable a form of scaffolding that makes learning accessible within students’ zone of proximal development. In this case, long-term memory is less important than the capacity for engaging and interacting with disciplinary knowledge, the latter remaining critically in play.

A reflexive humanising pedagogy brings design-based learning into the picture. Essential for ‘learning by design’ is the range of learning activity types, use of specific digital affordances, considerations of appropriate learning contexts, and scaffolding sequences.

To teach something by design is to teach it via a premeditated design focus involving a series of explicit action stages. On such a view, teachers become designers as they select the range of activities they will bring to their hybrid learning ecologies and their planned pedagogical sequences.

Scaffolding student practices and orchestration learning are crucial. Lecturers orchestrating the learning activities and students actively engaging with their learning are essential to learning design.

Circles of supportive pedagogical publics

In conclusion, reflexive pedagogy is not the silver bullet for establishing a humanising pedagogy. Shifting from traditional pedagogy to reflexive pedagogy requires a concerted institutional approach. The creative use of digital teaching infrastructure at scale is in play.

Assessment based on students’ knowledge-making, not regurgitation, would support students’ creative, intellectual process capacitation. And AI and data analytics to support teaching and learning would be in play.

Universities must enter a space of experimentation, intellectual, technical and pedagogical capacitation across the university, creating small, ever-widening circles of supportive pedagogical publics.

The university should incubate a reflexive humanising pedagogy by systematically growing supporting lecturer networks across campus.

I am not as naïve as to think that the shift to reflexive pedagogy will be easy or can be accomplished over the short term. But, failure to move to a reflexive pedagogy would mean that students would not acquire the intellectual capacity to live justly and productively in this world.

This is an edited version of a keynote address by Professor Aslam Fataar at the Dynamics of Humanisation Symposium at Nelson Mandela University on 3 October. Fataar is a professor in the department of education policy studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. The title of his address was “Placing the university’s ‘institutional curriculum’ at the centre of a ‘reflexive humanising pedagogy’”.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here