Western University unveils plan to tackle gender-based and sexual violence on campus

Western University students painted their bodies with the words No and with black handprints to protest sexual assault and gender based violence at Western University on Sept. 17, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

The results of two reports looking into multiple reports of sexual assault at the start of the 2021-2022 school year at Western University will see staff implement more mandatory programming and increase staffing in student dorms.

During the weekend of Sept. 10-11, 2021, several social media reports suggested 30 or more students were drugged or assaulted in on-campus housing at Western University during orientation week or “OWeek.” Global News has not verified the reports.

Western University launched the Action Committee on Gender-Based and Sexual Violence (GBSV) and an independent review to identify policy gaps or procedural failures relating to the weekend.

The two reports, which the university says complement each other, that call for the university to thoroughly re-evaluate OWeek activities, appoint a special advisor to address campus culture and safety, and require all incoming students to complete gender-based and sexual education violence prevention and awareness training before arriving on campus.

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“We have listened to our campus community and our expert partners. Together with them, we want to be leaders in the work to prevent gender-based violence from happening on university campuses and throughout society,” said Alan Shepard, Western’s president.

Although no one came forward with a formal complaint following the online allegations, police and advocates have acknowledged it can be hard for victims of sexual or gender-based violence to come forward.

During that same week, London police had confirmed that three incidents of sexual assault involving four female victims were under investigation.

The social media reports and other incidents led to a school-wide walkout of 9,000 students protesting what they called a “culture of misogyny” on campus and called for Western officials to review policies and procedures for handling these situations.

An estimated 9,000 student at Western University walked out of class to protest what they call a “culture of misogyny” on campus after a series of sexual assault allegations on Sept. 17, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News
Western Student Holding up a signs during a rally at Western University’s UC Hill against sexual assault and gender based violence. Sept. 17, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan Global News
Students holding up signs to protest sexual assault and gender based violence at Western University in the wake of numerous reports of sexual assault. Sept. 17, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

Moving forward, the school plans to work with student leaders and other campus partners to design an OWeek that they say focuses on “academic success and student safety, and discourages over-consumption of alcohol and other recreational drugs.”

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“We’re still a destination university for people who want a great education, and they want to have it in the context of a strong social network, and that network survives their time in Western and it becomes a lifelong network for alumni. So socializing is part of university education for everyone, we just want to make sure it’s fun and safe fun,” Shepard said.

Initially announced earlier this year, following interim recommendations from the GBSV committee, incoming Western students will need to complete GBSV education online training before starting school.

Students will also receive in-person education in August as part of Community Connections programming.

One of the partners involved with the Action Committee on GBSV is Anova, which helps victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence.

AnnaLise Trudell, manager of education, training and research at Anova, tells Global News the report was “very fulsome” in addressing the issues but will now fall on the university to make sure the recommendations are put into action.

“I think if they all come to fruition, it will absolutely lead to a culture change on campus. There are so many different multiple intervention points that are really what is needed. We know that from the research is what is needed in terms of long-term culture change,” she told Global News.

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Staff at Anova assisted in creating some of the consent and gender-based violence education for first-year students.

Trudell said all first-years will participate in small groups of 30 or less, in 90 minutes focused on unpacking what consent means before they arrive on campus.

For Trudell, talking to students about consent and its meaning is essential because despite most students knowing the definition of consent, sexual violence on campus continues.

“If it was as simple as giving students ‘here’s the definition of consent, here’s the definition of violence, don’t do the bad things,’ we would have already eliminated sexual violence, but it’s not that simple,” she said.

One of the other key stand out points for Shepard was the recommendation to hire an additional GBSV support case manager and education coordinator, launching a two-week training program for all OWeek student leaders, and creating a training program for Western special constables and other security personnel.

The report also calls for more support for student organizations like fraternities and sororities to address issues around GBSV and apply for funding from the Canada Research Chair program and Canada First Research Excellence Fund to support new academic positions focused on GBSV-related research.

“The impact of last September has rightly led us to look inward as an institution. We are re-examining our culture, our values, our policies and our approach to orienting students to campus life. And we are redoubling our efforts as a community to use this moment to generate real and lasting change,” Shepard said.

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“I would say that we are a safe campus and we are working to ensure that it’s even safer, and that’s actually an effort that requires all of us. Everybody has a role to play and a part to play in that. I’m quite optimistic about the year to come.”

Click to play video: 'Western University students stage walkout over sexual abuse allegations'
Western University students stage walkout over sexual abuse allegations

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