Western University is introducing new safe sport measures and augmenting existing resources to support student-athletes.
Key among the new steps is the elevated appointment of Laura Misener, professor and director of Western’s School of Kinesiology, as Senior Advisor on Safe Sport effective Nov. 6, reporting to John Doerksen, Vice-Provost (Students).
“Western has an unwavering commitment to ensure the well-being and safety of our students and our student-athletes,” said Doerksen. “Professor Misener’s extensive knowledge of safe sport practices, governance and policy formulation, combined with her personal experience as a competitive athlete and coach have been, and will continue to be, invaluable as we work to create the safest environment possible for our student-athletes.”
Misener has been advising Western Sports & Recreation on safe sport since September, including how university policies and procedures can evolve to more closely align with the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS) put forth by the national Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, an independent division of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.
In her new role, Misener will advise the university on areas to improve safe sport practices and governance, as well as educational and support initiatives for coaches and student-athletes.
“Safe sport is more than creating an abuse-free environment – it is about cultivating a culture where everyone can thrive. Universities are well positioned to be leaders in an athlete-centred approach. A collective effort is needed to ensure safe sport experiences for all student-athletes,” said Misener.
Since the start of the current season, Sports & Recreation has begun conducting an anonymous survey of student-athletes, allowing them to share their hopes for the coming year, provide information about their mental and physical health, identify their priorities and raise any concerns or issues – including the opportunity for follow up with Sports & Recreation leadership. Historically this kind of survey was conducted at the end of the season only. Going forward, both surveys will be administered annually to support the ongoing work of fostering a supportive and safe culture.
Sports & Recreation will also develop a comprehensive plan to educate and build awareness among student-athletes, coaches and staff about processes related to Western’s two existing anonymous tools for reporting harassment or discrimination and gender-based sexual violence (GBSV) incidents.
Over the past several years Western has taken a number of actions in support of a safe and inclusive experience for student-athletes.
The university has a range of requirements for coaches, staff, and student-athletes including GBSV awareness and prevention training and anti-racism training.
Western coaches are expected to follow the standards set out in the Coaching Association of Canada’s (CAC) National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) coach code of conduct, which includes maintaining appropriate boundaries and relationships that prohibit harassment, sexual harassment, and other inappropriate behaviour. They must also comply with the NCCP code of ethics which sets out the ‘Rule of Two’, a recommendation that acknowledges power imbalances and requires that more than one adult be present during all coach/participant interactions.
In addition, all Western coaches and student-athletes are required to take the CAC’s Safe Sport Module, intended to help anyone involved in sport identify and prevent situations of maltreatment. All coaches must also complete the NCCP’s Mental Health Training and Making Ethical Decisions and annual criminal record and vulnerable sector checks are required by all Sports & Recreation coaches and volunteers.
Doerksen acknowledged the unique challenges and pressures student-athletes can face.
“We are committed to continually improving and fine-tuning the resources we have in place to provide our student-athletes with the best assistance and care possible,” said Doerksen. “We will continue to work with them, along with Professor Misener and coaches, staff and subject matter experts in the Student Experience portfolio to ensure our student-athletes have a safe and positive experience at Western.”