On January 30, Arthur published the first piece concerning TUEFRT and the alleged misconduct that takes place within its ranks. In the time since then, we have received a multitude of responses, questions, and comments. The most notable response was from TUEFRT itself. Since (and in response to) the article, they have released a Letter to the Editors, given an official response, and made many overdue changes to their website. Steps have also been taken to work on their level of transparency and dependability. Arthur offered to publish their full response in its Letters to the Editors but TUEFRT declined.
One of the largest question marks prior to the January 30’s article was regarding TUEFRT’s funding and spending. At the time, the estimated amount of TUEFRT’s levy funding was $60 000. Since disclosing their finances, we now know that TUEFRT handles funds in excess of $80 000. $42 600 is dedicated to training. Looking closer, it was revealed that $18 500 is dedicated to anticipatory training fees for the 2019 fall semester. However, they will receive another levy cheque in September, and still have any excess funds from the previous year. So why are future fees being accounted for in this year’s budget, and where will the fall income go?
Currently, $6 000 is dedicated to responder reimbursements. This amount does not include the reimbursements for the Vulnerable Sector Police Checks and Tuberculosis tests that volunteers must take, but is solely for food reimbursements. “TUEFRT reimburses its responders up to $12 for food on call only when they are: 1. On-call for a 16-hour overnight shift, 2. On-call for weekend shifts, 3. On call for extra coverage events, or 4. Have pulled a double shift.” According to a former responder, however, the spending limit was neither enforced nor appropriately monitored. They remember the meals on overnight shifts being “the part of the night we all looked forward to,” because the team of three would order in food in excess of $80 or $90 on the promise of reimbursement. Another $1 700 is dedicated to a ‘team banquet’ that is apparently hosted on campus and has no external catering, or any other costly expenses. $1 600 is reserved for ‘Group Bonding Activities’ including renting a cottage and laser tag. There are also accounts of gear — with a cumulative price tag of almost $8 000 — being left with past members, rather than returned to TUEFRT. All of this occurs while our grocery assistance program is underfunded and unable to keep up with requests.
One thing this financial information lacks is context. The numbers are easy to read, and with simple calculation, you arrive at the grand total of $80 400 – the entirety of their fall and winter levy cheque and then some. 25% of this year’s funding — $19 700 — is a roll-over from the 2017/2018 academic year. This begs the question of why TUEFRT’s levy fee has been steadily increasing.
It has grown from $6.34 in 2017 to $7.93 in 2018 and to $8.06 this academic year of 2018-2019. If funds are so plentiful that they can cover the expenses for the fall semester of the upcoming year, why does the levy keep increasing? Without previous years’ expenses and financial statements, it is impossible to determine a pattern in spending. It is irresponsible to increase levy fees that are funding activities such as ‘laser tag’.
TUEFRT Response Time
Another issue raised in the original article was the exorbitantly long wait time of 35 to 40 minutes before a patient received help during a medical emergency. Their friends had contacted the number that was advertised as the TUEFRT line, only to get in contact with a member of security. In their official statement, TUEFRT addresses and clarifies the circumstances of the situation. “The phone number 705-748-1333 is the Trent Security emergency line, and TUEFRT is not responsible for managing this line.” This is not clear from the posters, stickers, and or even on their website, which advertise this number as theirs. Their advertising has consistently misinformed the student body by saying that the number provided is theirs and will connect callers to TUEFRT themselves. If an expectation has been set that they are reachable through what they call their “emergency line”, then they are responsible for managing that expectation or fulfilling it.
Of more importance is why they do not have a direct line. “Responders are not required to stay in the office, as students are often in class or in the library. A landline would not be able to be efficiently monitored. Furthermore, responders may sleep during night shifts and a cell phone may not be loud enough to wake them. The current system also means that the dispatcher can continue to gather information and relay it as responders are making their way to the call.” If having security as their dispatch is designed to allow for volunteer/student flexibility and the quickest relay of information, their lack of communication defeats this purpose.
In response to Madison’s 40-minute wait, they conducted an investigation: “It was discovered that this resulted from an issue with security dispatching, and that TUEFRT responders were not immediately made aware of the call, however once notified responders were on scene within five minutes.” They say that this system is the best one while also refusing responsibility for its pitfalls. If they have chosen security as their dispatch, claiming that the information was not properly relayed is their responsibility, and a fault that a student should not have to pay for.
“It’s Not Hazing”
In response to the sexual harassment, hazing and excessive drinking that their team training is rife with, they admit fault. “First of all, we would like to acknowledge that these events did take place, apologize to any team member, either past or present who experienced these, and outline the steps we’ve taken in recent years to address these issues.” It is encouraging that they acknowledge these past events and are taking affirmative actions to prevent them in the future. However, they still refuse to accept responsibilit:. “We would however, like to stress that the current executive and governing board is not aware of any of the instances mentioned in the January 30th article taking place among the current team. Since a large turnover in team members following the 2016-2017 year, we have been working incredibly hard to change the culture of the team to be more welcoming and accepting to everyone, and ‘rookie parties’ are no longer an accepted practice. After receiving an official complaint regarding these issues at the beginning of this school year, we have taken significant steps including implementing mandatory group dynamics and anti-hazing awareness training, led by a representative from the Office of Student Affairs.”
They admit to only taking action after the complaint was filed, and claim that responder turnover is part of their approach to eradicating this toxic culture. The January 30 article did not include a timespan for the allegations, to protect the identities of the sources, and many responders remain on the team for up to four years, so the supposed turnover takes several years, solving little to nothing. The changes mentioned, while good, were not implemented until the 2018 academic year; in fact many of them, including all changes made to the website, were made in response to the article.
TUEFRT has struggled with accountability in the past because of a lack of general oversight by an authority. In response to the number of team members skipping training or competitions — at times due to excessive drinking behaviours — new rules have been enforced. “Since last year we have implemented contracts that each conference attendee must sign, stating that if any conference events are missed then the subsidization from the team is revoked and individuals must pay the full cost out of pocket.” Having team members pay on their dime instead of the student body’s is a step in the right direction to ensure that students’ levies are not misused or wrongly supporting irresponsible drinking. Plenty more still needs to be done, and despite claims of grand gestures and system changes, results have yet to be seen.
It is alarming to see that a majority of the volunteers are nursing students who will eventually enter the healthcare field. The lack of supervision, toxic sense of superiority, and unchecked power structure is grooming a group of soon-to-be medical professionals in a potentially dangerous manner. An unfortunate example is former TUEFRT Program Director and recent Trent nursing graduate, Adam Bullock. As of early February, he was charged with breaking and entering, and with sexual assault, both of which occurred in September of 2017.
A previous member had expressed concern and discomfort with being repeatedly placed in the office with two men. Despite TUEFRT’s assertion that students are not always in the office, this member was told that she could not leave during overnight shifts, despite the close confines of the room. After nearly a year of dedicated work, she was blacklisted for a series of unconfirmed wrongdoings. She was not allowed to properly defended herself and was intimidated into compliance.
“I was a small, 18-year-old girl and I was put up against two much smarter, six-foot-two men. I was made to feel intimidated into staying quiet, I was threatened that repercussions of public outlash would affect my academic future at Trent. I was ostracized from the team and all of my friends because they knew if they were caught sympathizing with me they would be punished. As a result of the bullying “TUEFRT situation” I was depressed and too anxious to go to class out of fear of seeing my abusers, I failed every class that semester, and was hospitalized twice due to suicide attempts. They tried to break me and they succeeded.” TUEFRT volunteers have not only the potential to be dangerous in the future, but currently pose a threat to others now.
TUEFRT is attempting to be a phoenix rising from its ashes. They want their statement and the changes since made to their website to show dedication to eradicating the toxic culture of years past. Yet they refuse to acknowledge the faults in their system or proactively protect their volunteers. Their attempt at transparency is to be applauded, given that they had no past track record of doing such. It is enough to say that TUEFRT is taking long overdue steps towards creating a better group and environment for the community. Although they have made several adjustments in such a short time, it remains to be seen if these changes are permanent, or if they are simply defensive reactions that avoid responsibility. They still have a long way to go.