By Jennifer Hoegg
The Acadia Students’ Union will be part of a review of student union policies and practices for alcohol consumption and sexual assault prevention the province is helping to fund.
“Too often we are reactive on this issue and there’s a huge need to be proactive, union president Matthew Rios said last week. The senior student is also the vice-chairman of StudentsNS.
According to an Aug. 28 announcement, Department of Labour and Advanced Education is contributing $31,000, with another $13,000 from student unions and $1,400 from Cape Breton University for the project.
In September 2011, a 19-year-old Acadia student died after a night of drinking. In response, the university commissioned a review by the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang.
Rios praised the university’s leadership on the discussion of alcohol.
“Our administration has been absolutely pioneers when it comes to this,” he said, adding it’s a difficult one for universities to discuss because, “in addressing these issues you have to identify that there is an issue.”
Acadia’s student leadership is fully on board with the administration’s changes to alcohol policies, Rios said, but there is a need for a student-led initiative. He said the Strang report still left some questions for students’ unions, which often operate bars.
“We’re still lacking direct information that affects us,” he said.
“There are so many variables to do with alcohol and sexual assault we can’t control, but there are some we can control.”
The students will also use the review to develop a communications campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault, how to prevent it from happening and what to do if someone witnesses an assault.
Rios said the Rehteah Parsons case in Halifax has “framed the conversation in a different way.
“There’s a huge need to be proactive,” he said. “I think it’s really sad when a case like Rehteah’s has to stimulate these conversations.”
He said there is evidence the culture at Acadia is changing and said the student groups’ work is “is focused around a culture of behavior that tries to set social norms” around responsible alcohol consumption and sex.
“I think it says a lot that students are stepping up,” he added.
“Hopefully this will be a catalyst for other universities to step up.”
Student unions at Acadia, Mount Saint Vincent, St. FX and Cape Breton University are also taking part. Saint Mary's University and Dalhousie Agriculture's Students' Association are also involved. Dalhousie Student Union will participate in the communications campaign.