Rape Culture on Campus


McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), in collaboration with the Atwater Library and Computer Centre’s project Addressing Gender-based Sexual Violence on Campuses in Montreal, are supporting a student-initiated, arts-based event to explore the reality of on-campus gender-based sexual violence and rape culture. In the spirit of collaboration and collective reflection, the event will bring survivors, students, artists, technologists, community organizers, administrators, faculty, staff and front-line workers together on the McGill University campus to participate in a wide-range of arts-based activities aimed at understanding, addressing and healing from gender-based sexual violence and rape culture on campuses. Importantly, we seek to bring together a variety of stakeholders, including students, from different colleges and universities to partake and exchange insights. Our hope is that the ideas and activities at the McGill University event will be appropriated and replicated on other campuses to further the conversations, learnings and explorations born of this initial community gathering.


Who will be participating?

The Atwater Library and Computer Centre received funding from Status of Women Canada to implement the project, Addressing Gender-based Sexual Violence on Campuses in Montreal (April 2017- April 2020). This project will mobilize key thought leaders and academic institutions, along with relevant community and industry partners, to address sexual violence on campuses in Montreal. The primary goals are to assist academic institutions across the city to develop and implement policy and responses to gender-based sexual violence that are meaningful, effective, living, active and iterative. This will entail a continuum of activities from naming and defining sexual violence and its gendered aspects, to engaging in knowledge building activities at all levels of the participating institutions.

The hope is that this event will inspire collaboration among relevant stakeholders to share knowledge and to collectively create best practices going forward as we are operating from the premise that policy about gender-based sexual violence needs to be continuously revisited to remain relevant and accessible. The Healing Art Jam will bring together a variety of people and groups from Dawson, Vanier and John Abbott colleges together with stakeholders from McGill and Concordia universities to heal, restore and build bridges, both within each respective institution, but, also, between institutions to nurture ongoing synergies and networks.


What is the problem that the healing art jam will address?

According to findings from the Needs Assessment conducted for the Addressing Gender-based Sexual Violence on Campuses in Montreal project there is a myth held by some stakeholders that gender-based sexual violence and rape culture do not exist on their campuses. This myth is perpetuated by the argument that the problem does not exist because so few students make formal reports. However, low reporting rates are not proof that the problem does not exist, rather it may suggest that there is a lack of trust or faith in reporting and supportive systems on campus. This creates a circular problem where students do not seek support even when structures and resources exist. “Research shows that one reason why incidents of sexual violence on college and university campuses are underreported is that victims have little confidence in their educational institution” (Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur).

This event seeks to foster an interactive community wherein participants can engage with various arts-based, healing practices. We envision healing as a multifaceted experience which can include healing at the personal, interpersonal, community and institutional levels: healing among students, healing between educational administrations and the students, survivors and marginalized persons they serve, and the healing of institutional processes and systems. As a community that has grappled with gender-based sexual violence and rape culture for far too long, it is time for us to all come together to collaborate, create, generate understanding, share knowledge and heal.

On-campus policies and responses to sexual violence need to embody lived experience for them to be meaningful for the community which they intend to support. Thus, through collaborative art, organizers at the event will create experiences that resonate with participants. Stakeholders and partners on this project have indicated that there is an urgent need for different ways of building knowledge that facilitate a broader concept of how rape culture permeates all aspects of campus life. We are interested in exploring the power of art-based interventions in illuminating these connections as well as in removing the institutional barriers that make it difficult to clearly “see” the profound impact that rape culture has on community. Through these interventions, we hope to nurture empathy, as well as authentic emotional experiences that can influence responses to gender-based sexual violence at the personal, collective and systemic levels - guiding how we respond to survivors, and others affected by gender-based sexual violence, as administrators, teachers, students, workers, and, most importantly, as human beings.

This event is particularly timely as we are currently in a pivotal moment where social media movements such as #MeToo are serving as a vehicle to raise awareness, start conversations and arguably signify a potential culture shift. Voices that have previously been marginalized and discounted are being heard. Government, legislators and policy makers are recognizing that now is the time to operationalize the momentum of this grassroots movement through legislation and policy.


Expertise to conduct this project

The Atwater Library has unique expertise to collaborate on this project as they have conducted a variety of creative arts-based projects with community groups, schools and universities that help individuals express what is important to them.


Why use arts-based approaches to address gender-based sexual violence on campus particularly regarding developing policy?

“Art makes us look; it engages us. The reason we need and create art has to do with its ability to discover what we didn’t know we knew, or to see what we never noticed before, even when it was right in front of our noses. Artistic uses of images can make the ordinary seem extraordinary – breaking through common resistance, forcing us to consider new ways of seeing or doing things” (Weber, 44).

Arts interventions have a rich history in feminist theory and art is often mobilized in the interests of the most marginalized who may feel excluded by traditional policy frameworks (Florence & Foster, 2017). Moreover, feminists have long fought to include other forms of knowledge – such as those` produced through art interventions- as valuable and legitimate in the movement toward greater equity for all women.

Findings from the Needs Assessment for the Atwater Library and Computer Centre’s project Addressing Gender-based Sexual Violence on Campuses in Montreal, revealed that the various stakeholders on campus have very different and often contradictory perspectives about the definition and prevalence of gender-based sexual violence on campus. We uncovered conflicting opinions on the roles and responsibility of administration, faculty and students regarding who should or could participate in policy and strategy development. There were often gaps in understanding, miscommunications and misinterpretations, feelings of resentment, defensiveness, exclusion, and betrayal, along with trust issues when these players came together to discuss issues of gender-based sexual violence on campus. However, before we can even begin to come together to develop policy that resonates and makes sense to all stakeholders, we need to come together to heal and a significant aspect of this can occur through sharing and understanding each other’s experiences and perspectives. We believe that an effective vehicle for accomplishing this is through shared artistic experiences.

Art can capture the ineffable; those emotions, experiences, memories and perspectives that are too painful, controversial or difficult to put into words. Through art we can share that which might otherwise remain hidden, but that which is so essential to forging authentic connections and understandings. “Art makes us look; it engages us and disarms or bypasses the purely intellectual, leading to a more authentic and complete glimpse of what a particular experience can be like, of what people think and feel” (Weber, 46)

Relatedly, although healing practices grounded in talk therapy and conversational exchanges are useful, they are often limited in their capacity to touch, uncover and heal trauma (van der Kolk, 2014). Moreover, many people who experience sexual violence may not feel secure or able to share their experiences verbally (van der Kolk, 2014). Arts-based methods, whether in the form of visual arts, poetry, theatre, music or dance, however, are apt at fostering peoples’ connection to their emotional selves and bodies. Art-based exploration and expression can provide a relatively safer and more inclusive platform from which people can connect to and share their stories. “The capacity of art, music, and dance to circumvent the speechlessness that comes with terror may be one reason they are used as trauma treatment in cultures around the world” (van der Kolk, 2014, 243).

Furthermore, art can help us see a situation through someone else’s eyes and share an experience empathetically in ways that a professionalization day or conference presentation fail to do. This is particularly crucial when developing and implementing policy that responds to an experience one might never have or expect to have. Art can instigate provocative conversations and make challenging ideas accessible and inclusive, while complicated academic and policy discourse can potentially exclude traditionally marginalized populations and perspectives that we need to understand and include in the process of creating and implementing policy.

Art can be used to trace, reflect or explore an individual’s or community’s strengths and fears, to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about personal and community issues and to enable marginalized or excluded individuals and groups to bring recommendations to the attention of researchers and policy makers. The Art Jam will enable the community, and those affected by policy, to participate in creating and defining policy and responses to gender-based sexual violence on campus. We believe that policy grounded in community knowledge, exchanges and experiences will be most relevant and effective.


How the Healing Art Jam supports intervention strategies for preventing and countering sexual violence in higher education as recommended by Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur.

The initiative supports the recommendations outlined in the Stratégie d’intervention pour prévenir et contrer les violences à caractère sexuel en enseignement supérieur prepared by the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur which promotes a mandate to foster a culture change with regards to sexual violence within the institutions of higher education in Quebec. Recommended interventions include supporting the development of awareness-raising tools with the help of institutions of higher education and their partners and evaluating the effectiveness of these tools. This project addresses that mandate because it endeavors to bring together several academic institutions to create interventions collectively and then invites stakeholders at institutions of higher education and their partners to replicate the successful elements of the event, fulfilling the recommendation to share new tools and strategies with members of the college and university communities.

Additionally, the document mandates supporting projects that are designed to educate people on college and university campuses about sexual violence and the what the best practices are for handling disclosures through all levels of the institution, from administrators, intervention professionals, teachers, professors, students and support staff. In accordance with the recommendations, everyone within the institution’s community must be trained to react appropriately to disclosures of sexual violence and be familiar with the available internal and external resources. Content from the Art Jam will explore the best practices for responding to disclosures scenario through a forum theatre intervention that examines the nuances of the issue from both student and faculty perspectives.



Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur English Version, Intervention Strategy for Preventing and Countering Sexual Violence in Higher Education, Original Version:

Stratégie d’intervention pour prévenir et contrer les violences à caractère sexuel en enseignement supérieur

Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur. Intervention strategy for preventing and countering sexual violence in higher education

Speaking up and taking action to ensure that victims are no longer alone (accessed November 13, 2017) http://www.education.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/contenu/documents_soutien/Ens_Sup/Commun/Violences_caractere_sexuel/Brochure_Violences_Sexuelles_EN.pdf)

Florence, P., & Foster, N. (2017). Differential aesthetics: Art practices, philosophy and feminist understandings. Routledge.

Patterson, G. (2017). Arts-Based Neighborhood Revitalization Engaging Artists & Creative Entrepreneurs to Identify Policy Recommendations.

Weber, S. 2008). Chapter 4 pg-, pp. 41-54. Visual Images in Research in Knowles, J. G., & Cole, A. L. (Eds.) Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues. Sage.