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Social Justice and Community Engagement


This study uses critical discourse analysis through the lens of socialist and intersectional feminism to explore the ways union locals representing graduate student workers in the post-secondary sector in Ontario address sexual violence. I also explore how these union locals support and engage in activism related to sexual violence, what discourses are present in their efforts, and what is missing. My primary data source was original tweets within a four-year time frame between March 8, 2016 and March 8, 2020 from graduate student worker union locals at six Ontario universities. The union locals in my sample were: CUPE 3903 at York University, CUPE 2626 at University of Ottawa, CUPE 4207 at Brock University, PSAC 610 at Western University, PSAC 555 at Ontario Tech University (UOIT), and CUPE 3905 at Lakehead University. Twitter was used as the data source due to its textual nature and common use among many unions to publicly display their advocacy efforts and share updates. The data consists of 108 tweets in total with a large variation in the number of tweets between unions. The Twitter data shows that union locals address sexual violence and engage in activism in various ways, including organizing events, tweeting about post-secondary institutions, showing solidarity with other sexual violence activist efforts, updating their members on union-specific matters, providing tangible support for survivors, and other miscellaneous activities such as sharing articles and petitions. The discourses present in the tweets mostly counter traditional oppressive discourses. The majority of the tweets mentioning gender acknowledge and validate gender diversity, most of the tweets about institutions are critical of the institutions in which they are embedded, and most tweets explicitly name sexual violence and related forms of violence. However, there is insufficient content that shows how the unions view sexual violence, so it is unclear whether they believe it is an individual issue that the police should handle or a systemic issue that should be addressed collectively; and there are more tweets stating vague commitments without action than those showing concrete actions to fight sexual violence. The gaps in the data include little to no content from PSAC 555 at UOIT and CUPE 3905 at Lakehead, little direct intersectional analysis or connection of sexual violence to capitalism and precarious labour, and no analysis about the particulars of sexual violence within the specific context of graduate student labour. From my analysis of the data, I have come up with nine recommendations for union locals to effectively address sexual violence, support survivors, and dismantle rape culture.