How Student Unions Across Canada Are Preparing GBV Programming For Orientation Week

Written by: Carina Gabriele

Each summer, student unions across the country are busy preparing for the return of students to campus, both virtual and in-person. Orientation Week (otherwise known as frosh week or welcome week) is one of the busiest and most exciting times of the year, often taking place during or just before the first week of classes to help prepare and welcome incoming students to their new home.

While Orientation is often an extremely exciting time for everyone on campus, it also presents a heightened risk of gender-based violence (GBV). Additionally, 71% of students at Canadian post-secondary institutions (PSIs) either witness or experience unwanted sexualized behaviours in a postsecondary setting, and 41% of all sexual assault reports in Canada are by post-secondary students. Addressing gender-based violence on campuses has never been more urgent.

Equipping all incoming students with education and information about campus GBV resources is vital to preventing GBV through the first eight weeks of school and beyond. Due to this, student unions at PSIs across Canada have come up with creative, innovative, and effective ways to increase GBV education and prevention during Orientation.

We believe it is important to elevate these creative methods to encourage collaboration, knowledge sharing, and to profile the good work students are doing to lead this movement. Courage to Act reached out to a number of student unions, student associations, and student federations from coast to coast to collect more information about how they are preparing gender-based violence resources, training, programming, campaigns, and initiatives virtually or on campus for this September’s Orientation. Here’s what they said:

UNB Student Union

University of New Brunswick, New Brunswick 

At the UNB Student Union, we focus our Gender-Based Violence programming around preventing sexual violence on campus. We are currently preparing to launch our annual B.A.E. (Before Anything Else) Campaign which aims to educate our students on consent, create a culture where conversations surrounding consent are normalized, and highlight how to help students discuss gender-based violence with empathy and by minimizing retraumatization. Our annual Sex and Ice Cream programming, for our incoming first-year students, sets the precedent of zero tolerance of sexual or gender-based violence on our campus. These conversations touch on consent, intimate partner violence, and seek to address negative rhetorics surrounding sexual violence on campus. The UNBSU continues to learn from experts to develop Gender-Based Violence programming that can help students from all walks of life better understand the effects of GBV and how we can prevent this in our community.

Students’ Association of Bow Valley College

Bow Valley College, Alberta

The Students’ Association of Bow Valley College is committed to ensuring that all people feel safe when on our campus regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We celebrate the differences in our community and have accepted the challenge to grow with our changing demographics. This starts with training our staff and student leaders in things such as Sexual Violence education so that our team may be able to support individuals when things go wrong and our team is aware of the robust Sexual Violence policy that is in place from our Learner services. It also means creating space for our diverse community via the SABVC Pride Club, health fairs put on by the association, as well as events and services catered toward mental health initiatives. Our association is grateful to work with Bow Valley College to be able to foster and support the largest community college in Alberta’s diverse stakeholders and students. We continue to look for ways to learn and grow our association for the better so that we may represent more of our community effectively.

University Students’ Council

Western University, Ontario  

Gender-based violence prevention advocacy and programming are vital to creating a culture of consent and interrupting hegemonic gender and sexuality norms on post-secondary campuses. At Western University, the USC is prioritizing these conversations by taking up an intersectional lens as we approach our annual Orientation Week, including through our OneLove and Can I Kiss You interactive presentation-style events. OneLove, featuring gender justice advocate and educator Farrah Khan, exposes the incoming class to the complex and intersectional nature of gender-based violence while recentering pleasure and communication in discussions about sexuality. Can I Kiss You, facilitated by Mike Domirtiz, focuses on consent and bystander intervention fundamentals, aiming to empower students with a collective sense of responsibility for sexual violence prevention. These events – together with the year-long advocacy, programming, and collaboration with student organizers that the USC facilitates – encourage our student body and campus partners to prioritize critical conversations about how we can intervene in systemic gender-based violence.

Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association

Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia

The Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association, better known as SMUSA, is excited to be actively working with the Sexual Violence Prevention Initiative to create a week-long project called Consent Week in the month of September.

While the Sexual Violence Prevention Initiative Coordinator will be organizing most of the events for Consent Week, SMUSA will be organizing two main events. The first event titled – Consent and Masculinity – will bring together male-identifying students to discuss how gender norms, stereotypes, and toxic masculinity create harmful viewpoints of consent and contribute to gender-based violence. Secondly, SMUSA will organize a reflection session to actively discuss takeaways from the training and events we provided, while also collecting student feedback on how to improve Consent Week. Additionally, we are preparing resources and information brochures to give out to students throughout Welcome Weeks.

We hope that our initiatives provide insight on how to challenge gender-based violence on campus.

Fanshawe Student Union

Fanshawe College, Ontario

To welcome students to Fanshawe, the FSU and Sexual Violence Education and Prevention Office take a multi-pronged approach to support survivors and providing information on consent, pleasure, sex positivity, sexual health, and the resources and supports that are available to students, whether they have been subjected to gender-based violence in the past or when they are a student with us. These are some of the initiatives and services we have:

  • Every year the bus pass holder that students pick up during the first week of school contains supportive messaging to survivors and the contact information for the SVPA, this year we have added a card with information on sexual harassment on transit and how students can access help themselves or for others;

  • Every September we host a sexual awareness week where we host various events for students. This year we have Samantha Bitty and Farrah Khan hosting;

  • Trauma-Informed Yoga for Survivors;

  • We are organizing bar training for the campus restaurant staff, and are working towards creating safer spaces across campus;

  • Sex Toy Bingo;

  • Use Tiktok to spread awareness about sexual health; and

  • Host drag shows, drag queen storytime, and drag queen bingo.

If you would like to contribute your student union’s creative orientation gender-based violence education or program, please email Carina at community[at]couragetoact[dot]ca.


Suggested Citation: Gabriele, Carina. (2021, August). How Student Unions Across Canada Are Preparing GBV Programming for Orientation Week. Courage to Act.

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