by Margot Lacroix
The university as liberal institution has become, in the last decade, an interesting axis of debate where violence against women is concerned, at which actions as well as discourses collide. The incidence of violence, the threats that have arisen on different campuses across Canada, would seem to suggest that all is not well in the academic world; that the massive integration of women students into this institution undertaken some 20 to 30 years ago may well have reached - despite affirmations to the contrary - some kind of limit.
The university is now more than ever a site where many hopes for the future are held, an almost necessary rite of passage for anyone, male or female, who wishes to accede to positions of power in this society (even though the exchange value of diplomas is no longer what it used to be). Much of the commentary surrounding incidences of violence towards women on university campuses in recent years has consisted of attempts to skirt what is ultimately an unavoidable issue: what has, in fact, been happening? There has been an extreme reluctance not only to establish connections between various manifestations, but also to see them as something other than the "pranks of immature boys" or as acts of the demented. At the Concordia Women's Centre, we believe that as women involved in campus life we must pay extremely careful attention to these events and to the discourse that is being constructed around them. While one of our goals is to foster this sense of vigilance, we also see our role as a place from which women can learn to actively resist forces that maintain them in a system where violence is used as a means of compliance and control.
The quintessential liberal institution has in fact become the "site of a falsified perception of equality" (1). And this assumed equality fosters a false sense of achievement, which is potentially one of the major obstacles to any real change in the power structure between men and women on campus or in society in general. We know that while attendance figures indicate a close proportion of male and female students, there is overrepresentation of women in certain faculties and under representation in others. We also know, in spite of perceptions, that the number of female professors is still a long way from having reached the 50% mark. And there is little indication that the discourse of the last twenty years has had any significant impact where the content of courses is concerned. As a women's centre within a university setting, we believe it is essential to examine, address, and challenge this powerful assumption of equality. In our opinion, violence against women on campuses may be read as a sign that certain limits of change within the liberal institution have been reached; efforts made to relegate the discourse of feminists about violence to the category of "overreaction" are just another manifestation of the steadfast resistance to more profound change within the university structure.