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UBC under fire after scathing investigation into sexual assault policy

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DH Vancouver Staff Nov 22, 2015 12:39 pm

It’s one scandal after another for B.C.’s largest university.

UBC students are up in arms after an investigation by CBC’s The Fifth Estate discovered the university failed to discipline a male graduate student who had numerous reports of sexual assault filed against him.

Dmitry Mordvinov, a PhD student in the Department of History was finally expelled last week after at least six women on campus accused him of sexual assault as far back as 2013, according to The Fifth Estate‘s latest documentary which aired on Friday and will stream online on Monday, November 23.

One student who came forward to CBC, Caitlin Cunningham, told producers the university had encouraged in-person mediation between herself and Mordvinov, her assaulter, and said they could not take action because the assault did not take place on campus. Another student said she was in pain and bleeding after being assaulted by Mordvinov.

In response, a group of UBC students are holding a press conference on Sunday on campus to discuss the “systemic failures at UBC in relation to reports of sexual assault and harassment that put students at risk.”

The students, part of the Silence is Violence UBC chapter, will propose and establish an external process intended to hold the university accountable for much-needed policy reforms.

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Glynnis Kirchmeier, one of the student organizers, posted online earlier this week about the university’s lacklustre response to her report on Mordvinov almost two years ago:

“In January 2014, I reported a graduate colleague named Dmitry Mordvinov to UBC for his unprofessional, sexual harassment behavior I observed,” Kirchmeier wrote. “What I saw was troubling but not, I hoped, beyond the reach of a good sincere “Come to Jesus” talk from a male professor. I was told that the university would not speak with him, that as an alumna (of 6 weeks) I had no business taking an interest in the matter, and that I should be quiet.”

“Another History graduate student shared her assault with me. People I trusted told me about friends Mr. Mordvinov assaulted or raped, and that he had been repeatedly reported to many different members of the UBC administration to no effect.”

Kirchmeier then goes on to say that UBC told her they “appreciated” her concerns, but would not commit to any action against Mordvinov. She claims that UBC did not begin investigating him until they found media “sniffing around”, after which they orchestrated a Skype interview with him to take place on October 19, 2015, election day.

“Despite intense pressure by myself and others for accountability, no official minutes were taken at the hearing, there was no staff observer to assess it, and only three of the twenty or so Committee members showed up.”

At the time of writing, the university had not yet announced Mordvinov’s explusion, prompting Kirchmeier to predict they were timing it in order to “sabotage media investigation”.

Her sentiment is preceded by long-time political science professor Peter Krause who wrote an op-ed for UBC’s alternative newspaper The Talon last spring, admonishing the university for staying quiet on issues of sexual violence to protect their public image. He questioned why administrators engaged in silencing issues of sexual assault and whether or not their inaction was in part due to their own corporate careers. Krause even pointed the finger at UBC’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey, for refusing to publish his article as an act of silence.

In response to The Fifth Estate’s investigation, history department head Tina Loo issued a two-page response to producers, posted publicly on the program’s website, stating:

“The suggestion that I tried to keep students from speaking publicly about their stories is wrong. Media attention on sexual assault at universities is welcome as it focuses public attention on a critical social issue. The University and the History Department commend those who have survived sexual assault and choose to share their stories to help end the violence.”

Moreover, interim president Martha Piper stated during a Wednesday senate meeting that “students found guilty of sexual assault will be expelled” and “faculty found guilty of sexual assault will be terminated”.

In a statement from UBC spokesperson Susan Danard repeating Piper’s proclamation, she adds that privacy concerns, including BC privacy law, restricts them from speaking publicly about specific cases, like Mordvinov’s.

“What we can say is we continuously strive to improve our collective response to sexual violence through education. We can do better and we will do better.”

The Fifth Estate’s “School of Secrets” will stream online on Monday, November 23 at 7 p.m. PST.

Watch the preview below:

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DH Vancouver Staff
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