6 Ways Post-Secondary Institutions Can Collaborate With Gender-Based Violence Organizations

Written by: Farrah Khan with Kelsy Vivash

As post-secondary institutions (PSIs) look towards a school year where “campus” itself will likely be extended into online spaces, it’s important to consider how gender-based violence will manifest differently, and how prevention efforts will need to adapt. It is important to build relationships with community-based gender-based violence (GBV) organizations i.e. sexual assault centres, violence against women shelters, Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit groups and LGBTQIS2 organizations. Our shared goal of ending gender-based violence requires collaboration between community organizations and PSIs. Here are six ways that gender-based violence organizations and PSIs can work well together:

  1. Create a Formal Partnership with a Local GBV Organization: Campus and community-based organizations meet different needs of PSI community members; a collaboration between the two provides a strong safety net and wrap-around services. Across Canada, some PSIs are choosing to develop a comprehensive memorandum of agreement with community partners to facilitate this partnership. The MOU could be about having agency staff members on campus to provide counselling; the referrals process; or how the organization will be consulted and compensated. For some smaller PSIs, it may be that agency involvement is needed weekly to give survivors access to a dedicated support person through the reporting process.  One community agency Courage to Act consulted explained that agency involvement could eliminate a  conflict of interest by providing a safe third party when “the person who is the one that might take the disclosure or be the support person is also then involved with the investigation or other processes” (GBV Community Organization, Listening and Learning Participant.

  2. Understand the Capacity of Local Gender-Based Violence Organizations: In order to build strong relationships between campus and GBV community organizations, there needs to be ongoing collaboration and respectful partnership. It is recommended that PSIs have regular communication with external organizations when developing policy to ensure that these organizations are included in a feasible way: “A lot of the universities often do consult us, but sometimes they might be building into their policies with an understanding of referring to ‘x community agency’ without consulting us. So then they’re referring people to us for specific services, but not checking if we actually have those services or the capacity to provide those services” (GBV Community Organization Listening and Learning Participant). Besides including them in policy discussions, it’s critical to check in with these organizations about their services and capacity. PSIs should ensure that organizations are able to offer support before sending survivors to them; organizations may have an extensive or closed waitlist. Under austerity, many of these organizations’ are already stretched beyond capacity. We should explore ways to compensate the community organization for sitting on committees and advising; support their efforts to secure funding, and prioritize training for the whole campus community so that agency workers aren’t overburdened.

  3. Include Community Agencies in Policy-Creation and Policy Review: There is a long history of advocacy, education, and support services in Canada by grassroots organizations to address GBV. They can offer vital guidance for PSIs to learn from when creating, updating and evaluating policies and procedures to address GBV. From the onset, PSIs can seek insights from these organizations to ensure that the policies they develop are informed by the expertise of those working in the field.  In Courage to Act’s Listening and Learning sessions, GBV community organizations shared ways that they have supported PSIs to shift policy. For instance, one organization worked with campus partners to advocate for a clause around immunity, citing it as a powerful first step to creating a safe space for survivors of GBV to come forward: “If someone reported a sexual assault in the context of there being drinking or drug use in a residence—something that would otherwise have some kind of sanction potentially attached—there [needs to be] immunity in the case of someone coming forward about a sexual assault” (GBV Community Organization, Listening and Learning Participant). They elaborate that PSIs should be prepared for their policies to fundamentally do no harm. In policy-making discussions, “there should be some narrative around not having policies that create trauma or revictimizations.”  In practice, this may look like broadening policies to cover students, staff, and faculty; ensuring that any report of GBV is given with the survivor’s informed consent; and considering the impact that the complaint may have on survivors.

  4. Plan with Community Organizations, Preparing for the When, Not If: Having partnerships in place allows for PSIs to draw on the decades of experience of local GBV community agencies, and proactively put in place education, training for staff and support. In Courage to Act’s Listening and Learning sessions with GBV community organizations, they noted that certain times of the year were when they saw an increase in referrals to their agency including Welcome Week or Homecoming. These “may create challenges around the [consent] culture that they want to create” (GBV Community Organizations, Listening and Learning Participant). Planning ahead with community agencies, consulting on programming and service delivery, and alerting them to events on campus allows for the agency to also be prepared.

  5. Provide Opportunities for Community-Based Research, Partnerships and Programming: PSIs should leverage their own resources to benefit GBV community organizations including providing space for community events; opportunities for staff members to further their own education through shared professional development programming; student placements; and applying together for innovative research projects. Create transparent ways for community organizations to connect with your PSI to build mutually beneficial partnerships i.e proactive outreach to potential community partners. Recognizing that budgets are often stretched to the limit, these in-kind partnerships can help expand and strengthen the work of community organizations, which in turn benefits everyone committed to ending violence.

  6. Commit to Addressing Gender-Based Violence in the Broader Community: It is vital that work on campus aligns and intersects with efforts to address and prevent GBV both locally and nationally. For decades, and across Canada, community organizations have created reports, campaigns, research, services and programming to address and prevent gender-based violence. This vital work informs and strengthens PSI efforts. It is therefore imperative that PSIs recognize, affirm and amplify the calls to action by community organizations to address systems that allow violence to continue i.e the implementation of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry; ensuring trans-affirming community services; the ending of austerity measures that cut funding to essential services such sexual assault centres or violence against women shelters. As one Senior Administrator shared in the Courage to Act, Listening and Learning session “We are not working in a bubble with these gender-based violence issues – we are working with very complex and intersecting efforts, such as those addressing the Missing Indigenous Girls & Women – it’s very real here”. Campuses are connected to the community, and our work to end violence must explicitly be linked together.


Suggested citation: Khan, Farrah., & Vivash, Kelsy. (2020, May). 6 Ways Campuses can Collaborate With Gender-Based Violence Community Organizations. Courage to Act.

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