Masked people stood in silence on the Thompson Rivers University campus on Monday afternoon (Nov. 29), holding signs that said “We believe you,” “TRU is on stolen land” and “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”
“It has been all-encompassing it’s-about-f—ing-time energy,” TRU student Olivia Holmes said when asked what it has like to be on campus the past week, since KTW and CBC Kamloops broke the news of an investigation into a multi-faceted complaint by at least 13 current and former TRU staffers against two senior administrators.
The university’s board of governors is investigating after TRU vice-president of finance and administration, Matt Milovick, and associate vice-president of people and culture Larry Phillips were accused of actions related to racism, misogyny and bullying.
On Monday, between 80 and 85 Thompson Rivers University students and faculty marched from the Clocktower Building, where administration offices are, to a locked Human Resources Building. Philosophy professor Jenna Woodrow chairs the Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association’s equity committee.
She said that, since the story broke on KTW’s website late Tuesday night (Nov. 23), many people said they should do something as part of an appetite for justice on campus. Woodrow explained the silent march was intended to symbolize the silencing that often happens to victims. She said the turnout was more significant than anticipated.
The TRUFA equity committee released a set of calls to action, including providing safety and healing for people on campus. The committee is also calling for Milovick and Phillips to be placed on paid leave, pending the results of the investigation.
Social work professor Wendy Hulko said the response from TRU’s board of governors chair Marilyn McLean and TRU president Brett Fairbairn is “completely lacking in compassion.”
She has launched a change.org petition calling for the suspension of Milovick and Phillips.
One of the more significant concerns raised about the two administrators still working for the university during the investigation is that complainants of bullying and harassment must report allegations to the two men. In addition, Woodrow said, decisions made at the top impact the credibility of the rest of the university and reflect poorly on everyone.
TRU Indigenous masters of business administration student Brittany Thomas said she doesn’t feel safe on campus with Phillips and Milovick continuing to work during the investigation.
“They’re allegations, but there are like 15 allegations, not just one,” Thomas said.
Holmes, a fourth-year communications student, said she has friends who have faced discrimination and oppression at the university. She said she was surprised to see the issue covered in local media.
“It’s about time,” Holmes said. “Just really disgusted by the calls and allowing these people that have inflicted so much pain to stay and work these jobs. Students literally rely on these people in those jobs. Why wouldn’t they just step down is really the issue for me.”
Law professor Charis Kamphuis spoke to KTW for the initial story and attended the march on Monday. She said “countless” additional people have reached out to her with stories after news broke of the investigation. She cited inaccuracies in TRU’s communications department’s response, including claims allegations are being taken seriously and addressed quickly.
Some have criticized naming of the accused in news stories, Kamphuis, however, said people have a right to know there are “serious allegations” against Milovick and Phillips, as they continue to work at the university.
“That kind of transparency to the community is important,” she said.
KTW has requested an interview with TRU president Fairbairn.