Written by: Carina Gabriele
Campus student unions play an important role in creating student-funded and student-led gender-based violence (GBV) support and prevention initiatives on Canadian post-secondary campuses. Many of these initiatives are funded through student levy fees (collected by the student union), and maintained through campus referendum votes or democratic budget approvals. While the onus to create and fund GBV support and prevention initiatives on campus shouldn’t be the responsibility of students, student-levy funded initiatives do provide many benefits including:
The opportunity for students to shape their own campus resources, and have full autonomy over their own GBV initiatives, programs, and support spaces.
The recognition that students have unique experiences, and that entirely peer-led initiatives may make student survivors feel more supported or at ease as they process their experiences of GBV.
The ability to advocate for responses to GBV that PSIs themselves do not, or provide resources that administrative offices on campus do not.
It is important to profile the creative ways students are using student levy fees to support survivors and strengthen GBV advocacy in their communities. In our soon-to-be-released Student Organizer Community of Practice Toolkit, an anthology of 19 student stories and 20 student advocacy tools, we profile four gender-based violence support and prevention initiatives funded by student levy fees from student unions across Canada. Read on for a sneak-peak of the incredible work they do:
Alma Mater Society (AMS) of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC)
The Alma Mater Society (AMS) Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) is not entirely student-run: rather, a number of its permanent staff are alumni, and are supposed by student volunteers. The SASC is primarily funded by a Sexual Assault Support Service Fee of $9.50 per student, administered by the AMS Council. With this funding, SASC provides several programs and services on campus, including support & advocacy services for survivors of sexual and/or intimate partner violence, violence prevention outreach and education programming, a healthier masculinities program, and a volunteer program for students to engage in creating a culture of consent on campus.
While $9.50 is a small amount per student, it enables the SASC to have a large impact on campus. In 2019, the SASC had over 1200 service contacts with our support & advocacy team and our outreach team interacted with over 2000 students at events, booths and violence prevention workshops across campus.
Queen’s Alma Mater Society and the Sexual Assault Centre (SAC) of Kingston
The Queen’s Alma Mater Society has fostered a positive partnership with the local, off campus Sexual Assault Centre (SAC) of Kingston. Since 1990, the SAC has received a student levy fee from Queen’s students. The SAC was able to apply to the Alma Mater Society for a mandatory student activity levy of $1.00, that was voted on by all undergraduate students in the tri-annual fee referendum in 2017, as well as a $1.25 per student from Graduate and Professional Students. These fees are reviewed every three years and must be voted on and passed by student voters.
This creative student levy fee model helps fund the operations and programming offered by the Kingston SAC, which provides free, confidential support for survivors of sexual violence in the Kingston region. The SAC’s services include crisis support, counselling, information, referral, and advocacy services. Learn more about the SAC here.
McMaster Student Union (MSU) Women and Gender Equity Network (WGEN)
The MSU Women and Gender Equity Network (WGEN) is a peer-support driven service funded through a student fee collected by the McMaster Student Union (MSU) that offers a safe(r) space for womxn, folks who identify as trans or outside the gender binary, and survivors of all genders at McMaster University.
WGEN began in response to calls to better McMaster supports for women and trans students, as well as to provide better prevention and response regarding sexual violence. With a pilot phase in 2014, WGEN has been fully operational since 2015, and is one of two dozen services offered and funded through the McMaster Students Union’s annual budget. MSU charges a single organizational fee paid by undergraduate students. Elected student leaders approve annual expenditures and service funding levels.
Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) Survivor Support Centre and Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line
The Dalhousie Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line was created in 2015. Despite best efforts by DSU Executives, DSU Staff and many volunteers, the phone line was unable to obtain consistent funding to sustain year-round service.
In March 2017, the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), ran a referendum, asking students to vote for a levy to create a full time Survivor Support Centre. Full time students were asked to pay $2.50 per term and part-time students $1.50 per term. The passing of the student levy allowed the DSU to hire a full-time manager to run the Survivor Support Centre and Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line year-round in September 2017. The student levy allows the DSU to run a low-barrier access Survivor Support Centre (SSC), that is separate from Dalhousie University so survivors of sexualized and gender-based violence have options to access support on and off campus.
The Student Organizer Community of Practice has created an advocacy toolkit with 19 student stories and 20 student advocacy tools. The advocacy toolkit will build on a rich legacy of student organizing; it captures our stories of advocating for safer campuses, provides concrete examples for student organizers to be inspired, and gives examples of tools to create change on their campuses. It is a how-to guide to inspire and support students who would like to get involved in addressing gender-based violence on campus, especially if they are wondering how to begin this work. Upon the toolkit’s release in late 2021, It will serve as a catalog of accumulated knowledge that every student can use to make an impact at their respective PSIs and beyond. Learn more about our Student Organizer Community of Practice here.
Suggested Citation: Gabriele, Carina. (2021, May). Toolkit Sneak Peak: How Student Levy Fees Fund GBV Support and Prevention at Canadian PSIs. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/student-levy