On September 24 2015, Ryley Conferences Group will kick off its two day “National Conference on Campus Sexual Assault for Higher Education Administrators”. In keeping with its slogan of “where relevance drives the agenda” the issue of campus sexual violence is certainly a relevant one in light of the multiple cases popping up on Canadian campuses. However, a Toronto-based grassroots university coalition seeks to point out that relevancy isn’t justification enough when the conference’s efficacy is hindered by its outrageous and inaccessible registration fees and exclusionary tactics.
Silence is Violence (SIV): Feminists Against Rape Culture at York is a group comprised of York University staff, undergraduate and graduate students who are working with the aim of radically altering the culture of violence on university campuses across Canada. They take a survivor-led approach, ensuring all initiatives and recommendations from the group begin with the experiences of survivors of sexual and gendered violence, giving survivors a voice in leadership roles to ensure mobilization of their experiences.
Recognizing the importance of including those who have been affected by sexual violence in decision making processes is precisely what has these anti-sexual assault advocates riled up about the Ryley conference.
With an outrageous registration fee of $900, Ryley Conferences Group is profiting off of students who have experienced sexual violence on campus while excluding the very voices it is banking on. The exclusionary tactics make participation for students and community activists inaccessible, begging the question, how effective will the conference be if the most valuable voices are being excluded?
Furthermore, there is a lack of representation of racialized, Indigenous, queer and trans speakers and speakers with disabilities. Such omissions ensure that the dominant representation of sexual violence will remain narrowed to that of the white, cis-gendered, heteronormative woman, which is not representative of reality.
In response to Ryley Conference Group’s attempt to turn campus sexual violence into a for-profit venture, SIV will be hosting a counter-conference on the same day, providing sexual violence survivors, activists and service providers with a space to explore alternatives to the overly administrative and security-centered approaches. This event is open to all community members including students, academics, artists, community activists, allies, and all survivors of sexual and gendered forms of violence.
SIV is currently seeking proposals from organizations and individuals who wish to speak to the ongoing issue of campus sexual violence and rape culture in our education systems.
For more information on SIV, or the counter conference, please visit: https://ryleduptoronto2015.wordpress.com/