‘It’s a safe place’: University of Manitoba Students’ Union says members should be comfortable on campus

The University of Manitoba . University of Manitoba

The Students’ Union at Manitoba’s largest post-secondary institution is adamant: campus is a safe place for their members.

Perhaps, more so than ever.

“The University of Manitoba and University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) have taken a lot of measures to stop something like this from happening,” UMSU President Brendan Scott tells Global News.

Scott’s referring to disturbing allegations at Western University in London, Ont., where school leadership has received four formal complaints about sexual violence in the past week, in addition to various social media posts alleging more widespread assaults.

Read more: London’s Western University investigating reports of sexual violence on campus

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Those online claims have not been verified by Global News.

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Scott says he and his peers couldn’t fathom the news when they heard it earlier this week.

“We’re all shocked, for two reasons. One being, we were surprised they were having large (orientation) events.”

“Secondly, it’s 2021. How is this stuff still happening? How are people not aware of how wrong it is to commit these acts?”

The campus at the University of Manitoba – which would be the province’s third-largest city, were it classified as such – is more empty than full these days, amid the school’s COVID-19 measures.

With only 30 per cent of undergraduate students attending physical classes , Scott says it can be an eerie sight.

“There were some days (last year) when there was no one, period.”

But Scott says you wouldn’t get that feeling in the university’s five residences, which have been consolidated amid the lack of use.

Currently, only two are in use — one at full capacity, the other around 50 per cent.

Roughly 500 students live on-campus right now, leaving approximately 700 vacancies.

“The (Resident Assistant) number has stayed the same, so there’s actually more supervision per person than in a normal year.”

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If all goes according to plan, the U of M campus will look a lot more like a normal year in just a few months time.

Read more: University of Manitoba planning full return to campus for winter term

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With the migration of students en masse, comes the return of large social gatherings — many of which are already in the planning stages.

After nearly two years without them, Scott says there could be a pent-up appetite for socials, games nights and other activities, which could lead to excessive drinking.

“It’s about mitigating the ‘hype’ around it. We want students to be happy to be back, but nothing’s changed.”

“You still have to be a respectful human.”

All socials put on by U of M Student Associations have required a security and police presence since 2017.

More often than not, they’re also joined by volunteers from St. John’s Ambulance, and Red Frogs, which helps partygoers who may have had too much to drink.

“(Red Frogs volunteers) aren’t medically trained, but they’re good at recognizing those who are too intoxicated and offer them a safe space, or take them to St. John’s Ambulance volunteers.”

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But above all, Scott hopes UMSU’s work is also changing social culture for the better.

“We require all 28 student associations to have at least 75 per cent of their council go through a ‘Consent Culture’ workshop, and anti-sexual-harassment and violence training.”

“This year, we’re looking to having a committee look at those by-laws again and include many of our clubs too.”

Scott says that work never took a break over the past 19 months, even though on-campus events were forced to.

“Those workshops have been ongoing since August. Even though the events may not be happening right this instant, we’re still training for the future.”

Click to play video: 'London, Ont., police investigate social media posts about alleged sexual assaults at Western University student residence'
London, Ont., police investigate social media posts about alleged sexual assaults at Western University student residence

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