Novelist and Concordia grad Heather O’Neill applauds suspensions
Published Friday, January 12, 2018 8:08PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 12, 2018 9:05PM EST
Montreal novelist and Concordia University graduate Heather O’Neill applauds news the university has reassigned two creative writing professors amid allegations of sexual misconduct but says there is a long way to go before women are safe on the campus.
The suspensions were announced by a students’ group Friday, sources told CTV Montreal.
“When I first heard about it, I was actually overwhelmed with emotion. I think it’s a momentous event for them and I’m glad they took action so quickly within this week because it’s been going on for so many years,” O’Neill told CTV News Channel Friday.
“I know this is going to be a huge step in changing the environment at the school.”
The university did not confirm any suspensions, citing privacy, but did say an investigation will be conducted by an external party.
O’Neill attended Concordia in the late 1990s and released her debut novel Lullabies for Little Criminals in 2006, which won several prestigious awards.
She said women had to fight for education and a place in the workforce and now are having to fight to be treated with the respect and dignity males receive.
The allegations got widespread attention this week after the circulation of a blog post by former Concordia creative writing student Mike Spry. He alleged “innumerable instances” of unwanted sexual behaviour by professors.
O’Neill said reading the post was “sickening and shocking to me because it essentially described the exact same toxic atmosphere that I had experienced at the turn of the century.”
She said she was “constantly targeted and sexually harassed” by a professor, whom she says wanted to exchange help with getting published for sexual favours. She says since coming forward publicly she has heard from many students blaming the toxic culture for keeping them from writing.
University president Alan Shepard has said this week he was unaware of allegations of sexual misconduct in the department and would have acted on them had he known. O’Neill said she has no way to know whether Shepard is being truthful.
“For now, all I’m focused on is what Alan Shepard is going to be able to do now. Let’s move forward and take immediate action, which he is doing, so I do applaud him for that.”
O’Neill says the culture of Concordia needs to be overhauled and the university needs to take a close look at what it means for female students to be safe in their classrooms.
“Times are changing and young women are just not tolerating this type of behaviour. When I was young, we had no platform to communicate it to the world but now with social media, young women are a force to be reckoned with. They are legion and they are sticking together.”