Conference addresses sexual violence

If you ask a university student to discuss tuition, they’ll talk your ear off. If you ask about the frequency of sexual violence on campus or to define sexual harassment, however, they may not know where to begin.

Speak Out!, The Canadian Student Conference on Campus Sexual Violence aims to change this, and according to Conference Coordinator Maggie Smieszek, it’s about time.

"It’s the kind of topic that’s not really talked about," she said. "There are a lot of myths out there. Often students don’t know what constitutes sexual violence and what they should do if it happens to them."

The conference takes place from Nov. 5-7 in the MacEwan Hall Ballroom, and students from several Canadian universities will attend. The Speak Out organization sponsors conferences throughout North America. The last Canadian conference was held at the University of Alberta in 1998.

"It was so powerful and inspirational and motivating that I wanted to become involved and bring it to Calgary," said Smieszek.

Workshops on subjects from stalking to residence safety will be presented by experts from the U of A, McGill, Carleton and Memorial University. Three keynote speakers will talk, most notably Laura Robinson, an acclaimed freelance journalist who will address rape culture in sports.

The conference’s main objective is to educate students and provide a forum to discuss the issues and how they affect their lives.

"Having an opportunity to discuss the issue is very important," said U of C Sexual Harassment Officer Shirley Voyna Wilson. "Initiatives like this really contribute to raising awareness."

The conference’s major supporters are the Students’ Union, the Faculty of General Studies and the department of Sociology, but Smieszek noted there is a lack of student involvement and knowledge regarding sexual violence at the U of C.

"It shouldn’t just be the professors and university employees that have established organizations regarding this issue," she said. "It should be the students that get active in education and learning about sexual violence."

Conference registration is still available for U of C students at the cost of $40. For more information, call 210-7625, or visit the conference website at: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~mesmiesz.

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