Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual violence
After a week of allegations, reports, and protests across the province and in Fredericton surrounding the culture of sexual assault in post-secondary institutions, UNB has offered a number of communications in the forms of emails from President Mazerolle. Students remain displeased.
In a series of emails sent since November 14, President Mazerolle assured students that UNB does not tolerate sexual violence, and that the university would be looking into allegations against a member of staff working at the Student Health Center.
In recent weeks, the Instagram page @accountabilityatUNB has gathered multiple reports of sexual assault experienced by current or past students. Many of these instances were perpetrated by UNB Psychiatrist Dr. Manoj Bhargava, a psychiatrist at the UNB Student Health Center.
After multiple attempts and requests to receive comment, the UNB administration was unwilling to provide the Brunswickan any form of statement or interview regarding the matter of the allegations against Bhargava.
In an email sent on November 14, President Mazerolle told students, faculty, and staff that UNB was doing everything in their power to protect them, while taking action against the “member of the Student Health” who had perpetrated these offenses. The email also referenced the tri-campus Sexual Assault Strategy which states the assault must have happened while the student was enrolled at UNB for them to recieve counselling.
“We want to ensure the community that there are supports in place for those who have experienced sexual violence,” said Mazerolle, assuming no responsibility for UNB’s lack of accessibility for survivors.
In an email sent on November 17, President Mazerolle disclosed that UNB had been made aware that the College of Physicians and Surgeons had suspended the medical license of “a doctor” from the UNB Student Health Center. In this email, there was no indication on how the university itself had handled the allegations against Bhargava.
The email sent on November 20 was the first time that UNB used Bhargava’s name. This email outlines action that UNB will be taking to rectify the prevalent rape culture at the university, while recognizing that they have a role to play in ending sexual violence.
“The recent student reporting raises important questions about our institutional responses to sexual violence,” said President Mazerolle in the November 20 email. “…we all have a role to play to support survivors and prevent all acts of sexual violence and harassment.”
At a protest on November 14, organized by Miranda Murphy and held on UNB campus, Rebecca Salazar shared her story of sexual violence at UNB, and the resulting disbelief of her peers. Salazar, a doctoral student in the department of English at UNB, was already a survivor of sexual assault when she came to UNB, where she was subjected to more than one instance of further assault.
“I’ve been a student at UNB for going on eight years, over two degrees, and in that time I’ve been sexually assaulted twice, followed home or stalked more times than I can count, sexually harassed so many times that I can’t count – all by other students or UNB affiliates,” Salazar said.
Salazar spoke as an organizer of BIPOC Pride Fredericton, as well as an academic who studies rape culture in literature and writing communities. She gave staggering statistics about the disproportionate way that sexual violence affects the BIPOC and 2LGBTQIA+ communities. She described being failed by her faculty, and by the university as an institution, and experienced expressions of disbelief from those that she disclosed her experience to.
“With the exception of of the Campus Sexual Assault Advocates and some of the staff at the Student Counselling Center, I have been failed…” she explained. “I’m exhausted, I’m constantly afraid for my safety, I’m unable to graduate so far, and I’m deeply, constantly angry at the injustice that UNB continues to perpetrate against survivors.”
Melissa Ghanem, UNBSU Interim Vice President Advocacy, expressed that the UNBSU is disappointed with UNB’s handling of the situation. The UNBSU has been working diligently to listen to survivors and to come up with a list of actions to present to the university.
“The first thing is definitely accountability on UNB’s behalf,” Ghanem explained. “I think that’s going to be the critical component to students being able to trust them again.”
The UNBSU believes that including survivors in the conversation is imperative, and the executive team has sought training from Sexual Violence New Brunswick to ensure that they are prepared to engage in this conversation.
“We’ve made a formal request to meet with the President and have [survivors] there as well to have them heard,” Ghanem said. “I really hope that there is something that is done, I just want to see action.”
The University of New Brunswick refused comment on any matters relating to the upsurge of reports of sexual assault taking place at UNB from students.