*This post was submitted by Luna Taguchi, McGill University chapter member and former chapter president
CW: sexual harassment, workplace harassment, institutional retaliation
If you are reading this, you are either keen and staying updated with Total System Failure, or are relatively new and hoping to learn more about the situation. Welcome! I hope this short piece will help inform you, and encourage you to engage in the conversation that is happening around the abuse that is taking place in EWB.
Who are you, and why are you writing this?
My name is Luna, and I am a member and a former president at Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), McGill University Chapter. If you happen to know me, you would know how much impact EWB had on me, and how much I love the community I found at EWB.
For that reason, it was a shock to learn about allegations of harassment that EWB is facing, which I became aware of during EWB’s National Conference in January. Many community members raised questions about the situation, and asked what actions the organization would take to directly address the allegations. Despite the demands for transparent communications, EWB continues to stay silent. This has led to many members AND those outside of the organization to misunderstand or be uninformed about the situation.
I am still learning how to be a good ally, but I want to help survivors out by being one of the voices speaking up for them AND help others out by helping them feel less lost about the vast amount of information surrounding this issue.
TL; DR? It shouldn’t be a survivor’s job to have to retell their traumatic story and educate every single person they encounter so that people would believe them- they have been through enough.
So… what happened???
A former member faced abuse by her supervisor during her overseas placement. EWB leadership mishandled the case and continues to do so, while continuously re-traumatizing the survivor.
Read more about the story here: http://www.totalsystemfailure.org/our-story/
The members are trying to hold the EWB leadership accountable, and are making demands to the organization to address the issues. Yet, the leadership have been staying silent for months now. After the xChange Conference that happened mid-January, the University Chapter Presidents did not hear back from the executives until late February, and communications consisted of a PR strategy to suggest the issues happened a long time ago and were resolved. This was followed by another silence until EWB’s Spring Leadership Retreat that happened early May. Since the Spring Leadership Retreat, no update related to the matter has been released.
EWB refusing to communicate or address issues within its organization has left a disproportionate emotional burden on the members, who are unpaid volunteers, to handle the situation on their own, without having proper support from the organization. This is a clear evasion of responsibility by the leadership of EWB.
The abuse by those in power, the lack of transparency- these are all mere symptoms of larger systemic issues that the organization faces. Multiple people have now come out through this website about their own experience of harassment/ bullying in the organization. However, people don’t feel safe raising criticisms or coming forward with stories of abuse or misconduct publicly, and therefore we’ve asked EWB to put in place an independent inquiry so that people can feel comfortable reporting things.
TL;DR? We must let people who came out as a victim of the system lead the discussion around the systemic abuse/ harassment issues, and hold the leadership accountable for its actions.
How can we help?
While I, along with many in the EWB community, feel deeply disappointed and betrayed by the abuses of power at EWB, I want to make sure to note that EWB’s institutional misconduct DOES NOT speak for the entire EWB members, especially those in the community that are speaking up in allyship with the survivors. Open letters have been published from university chapters, namely at; McGill University, Concordia University, University of Alberta, and McMaster University. If you are a part of a University Chapter, I strongly encourage any other chapter leaders to follow their footsteps. The organization is essentially bullying survivors systematically, and by actively not taking a stance, you also become complicit in the act.
Any organization is susceptible to institutional misconduct, and speaking up about the misconduct does not have to be an act “against the organization”. EWB can become a better and safer place for everyone if it is willing to confront its problematic qualities, but to do that we must be able to raise criticism about its treatment of people without feeling like it would lead to retaliation from the organization.
Lastly, the biggest support you can provide a survivor is by educating yourself on the issue, and by elevating their voice. Total System Failure is a platform created by a group of former community members who are trying to address the systemic issues I described in this piece. To stay in loop with them, sign up for their email updates and sign the letter of the support.
Thank you for the time you took to read this to be informed, and I hope that people will continue engaging with the matter with an open heart to speak up for the survivors.
Dear EWB: I believe survivors.