When we were given the task of creating a campaign to raise awareness about a specific issue relating to sexual violence, my team and I, Covfefe Memes, decided to focus on sexual misconduct perpetrated by professors against students. We decided to focus on this specific issue because we noticed that there is a serious lack of awareness and research on this type of sexual violence. In fact, while doing my research, I could not find a single awareness campaign that focused on this type of abuse. Moreover, I was unable to find statistics or large-scale studies that investigated the occurrence of professors’ sexual misconduct towards students as it seems to be an area of sexual violence that is often neglected. Therefore, because of the general lack of awareness about this issue, my team and I knew that a campaign about it is heavily needed.
In terms of research, since we unfortunately could not find statistics, we focused on individual accounts of sexual violence by professors. For instance, I found out that recently there have been five professors at McGill’s Faculty of Arts who have been accused of sexual misconduct by students, yet the university is not doing anything to address these complaints (Rukavina, 2018, para. 2). Some of the professors’ inappropriate behaviours included: “holding office hours in bars, […] routinely sleeping with students who are in their classes, [and] being in abusive relationships with students they’re supervising” (para. 3). The most shocking and infuriating part of this story is that even though the administrators know about the accusations, they do not act on them by sanctioning and disciplining the professors in question, and they even discourage victims from filing complaints (paras. 5, 9). Because of accounts such as this one, our group wanted to help victims come forward and join other victims in order to facilitate action against such abusive professors.
While researching my group’s topic, I found a very interesting website called Geocognition Research Laboratory, which had a page called “The Academic Sexual Misconduct and Violations of Relationship Policies Database” (Geocognition Research Laboratory, 2018). This page, which was written as a WordPress blog post, included a spreadsheet database of over 700 cases of sexual misconduct by professors. The database was very detailed; it included information such as the name of the faculty member, the year that the sexual misconduct occurred, the official position of the faculty member, and the final outcome of the complaint. I found that this database was very much in line with my group’s idea of increasing awareness faculty abuse of power by creating a specific website dedicated to that goal.
My team’s campaign consisted of posters that illustrated examples of sexual misconduct by professors, such as holding office hours in bars and making suggestive comments about a student’s appearance, which were inspired by the examples of inappropriate behaviours we found while doing research. We decided to make the scenarios in our posters cartoonish and non-gendered in order to both attract students’ attention and be as inclusive as possible. The posters, which would be displayed all around university campuses, would include a link at the bottom, which would lead students to the Rate My Creeper forum we invented, which is a platform where students can anonymously voice their concerns about certain professors who act or have acted inappropriately. Similar to the existing database that I found, the platform we created would be dedicated to the issue of faculty members’ sexual misconduct, yet it would differ by being more forum-based. The goal of our platform was to both warn other students of potentially abusive professors as well as to allow students who have had similar experiences with a given professor to come together and file a collective complaint which would potentially have more impact. My team and I chose posters as a campaign strategy because we believed that students, who have to walk all over campus, would inevitably see at least one of our eye-catching posters and decide to look at it. Moreover, since we wanted to promote as much concrete action as we could, we decided to create the platform which would not only increase awareness but also, hopefully, lead to positive change in professor-student relationships.
Working on developing this awareness campaign was a very rewarding experience for me. In fact, I liked how the members of my group and I kept building on each other’s ideas. For instance, at the beginning, after discussing the issue of sexual assault on campus, we came up with the idea of addressing specifically the abuse perpetrated by professors. This eventually led to the idea of not only increasing awareness about it since it is a neglected issue, but also creating a tool that would allow concrete change, which resulted in the Rate My Creeper website. I found our brainstorming sessions very fruitful because they led to a media campaign we were all very proud of. Although my group and I ultimately created a campaign we were very satisfied with, we started the project with some creative disagreements. We had difficulty agreeing on the issue we would address, the audience of the campaign and even the media strategy we would use. However, through persistent brainstorming, exchanges of ideas and compromises, we were able to agree on all these aspects and develop our campaign. Looking back on this experience, I think that the fact that we had disagreements was a good thing: it allowed the members of my group and I to come up with even more ideas in order to satisfy everyone and it reminded me of the importance of compromises. In addition, I think that our disagreements are a testament to our passion to create the most impactful and original campaign we could.
Overall, I am very happy with Covfefe Memes’ campaign. I think that it would be very successful at combating instances of sexual misconduct perpetrated by professors. In fact, because our campaign includes two media – both posters and the online platform – I think that the chances of it getting noticed are very high. By placing the posters all over universities, I believe that students will inevitably see them. Moreover, I think that the posters will also threaten abusive professors and hopefully prevent them from acting inappropriately. With respect to the platform, I believe that its originality (as a forum dedicated to reporting cases of sexual misconduct) yet familiarity (since it is based on the design of the very popular Rate My Professor website) will encourage students who want to disclose their experience to use it. By concentrating all the discussions on this platform and making them visible, I believe that students will be able to organize collectively to file complaints and prevent faculty abuses of power from continuing, which is the ultimate goal.
Geocognition Research Laboratory. (2018). The Academic Sexual Misconduct and Violations of Relationship Policies Database [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://geocognitionresearchlaboratory.com/2018/08/20/the-academic-sexual-misconduct-database/
Rukavina, S. (2018, April 4). After Concordia, McGill faces its own #metoo moment. CBC. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca