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Findings from the First National Research Project on Sexual Harassment in Experiential Learning

Written by: Britney De Costa

Last January, Possibility Seeds’ Courage to Act project launched a national research-to-action project on sexual harassment in experiential learning. As the first project in the country to look specifically at the violence students are subjected to in experiential learning settings, our aim was to respond to gaps in research and a recognized need for support, resources, and tools to address what we know is a prevalent but often hidden issue. After more than a year of work with students, staff, faculty, administrators, experiential learning providers, and experts across the country, we are so excited to be able to share an update on where we’re at and what we’ll be releasing as we prepare for the upcoming academic term.

In the first phase of our project, we focused on research to help us better understand the issue and identify needs and promising practices. We ran two national, bilingual surveys, conducted interviews and focus groups, and held consultations to better understand people’s needs and concerns. What we learned was both heartbreaking and instructive.

We learned that one in two post-secondary students who participated in our national survey had been subjected to at least one form of sexual harassment in an experiential learning opportunity. And while this may be shocking to hear, it becomes even more concerning when we consider that this is a reflection of students of all genders, in a broad range of fields and types of experiential learning. Unfortunately, we know that this number will be much higher when we account for a number of factors, including gender, field, and type of experiential learning.

We also learned a lot about what we can do to make experiential learning settings safer. We heard specific concerns, needs, and challenges that need to be addressed, as well as the ideas and promising practices we can explore to do so. Now, we’re using what we’ve learned to develop tools, resources, and recommendations that we will be releasing in the coming months.

On August 17th, we’ll be releasing a suite of free, practical tools and resources for post-secondary institutions, including a model for responding to disclosures and a workbook for building an institutional protocol to respond to sexual violence and harassment in experiential learning.

The following week, on August 22nd, student leaders across the country will be sharing recommendations for more robust policy and legislative frameworks to address discrepancies and support a comprehensive approach to addressing sexual harassment and/or violence against students in experiential learning positions.

Finally, on September 21st, we’ll be releasing our final report with findings from the Sexual Harassment in Experiential Learning Research-to-Action Project, including national surveys of students, staff, faculty, and employers; case studies; and environmental scans; along with promising practices and recommendations for post-secondary institutions, experiential learning providers, and provincial, territorial, and federal governments.

To kick things off, we invite you to join us August 17th, 2023 from 1-2PM ET as we share findings from the first national study looking at sexual harassment in experiential learning and introduce our suite of free, practical tools and resources.

Britney De Costa

Britney (she/her) is a settler living and working in Thadinadonnih, or “the place where they built,” territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. She is a researcher and policy analyst who holds a Master of Social Work and a Master of Laws from the University of Windsor where she learned from students, community advocates, and critical scholars who informed her approach to systemic, community-led advocacy. Britney brings experience working for poverty reduction, disability justice, and access to education, and most recently worked at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance as staff support for student leaders advocating for safe and accessible post-secondary education in the province. Britney is passionate about gender justice and brings experience from her time as a student advocate educating others and raising awareness of the prevalence of gender-based violence on campuses and in the community. Her work with Courage to Act focuses on creating safer, trauma-informed complaints processes and addressing the gaps that make students vulnerable to sexual harassment in experiential or work-based learning.

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