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Western University OWeek will have better training for sophs, no ‘sexually charged’ nicknames

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

Orientation week (OWeek) at Western University in London, Ont., will look a bit different this fall, with the university taking steps to address gender-based violence on campus.

Lisa Highgate, associate director of residence conduct and conflict resolution, is leading the re-evaluation of Western’s OWeek activities. She unveiled the changes following reports of numerous sexual assaults last year.

As part of the re-evaluation of OWeek, Western will be enhancing the training for upper-year orientation leaders (sophs), setting up upper-year safety ambassadors for all residents, and setting up “care-tents” throughout campus with food and water during orientation week staffed by people providing mental health supports.

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

The changes will also include discontinuing sophs nicknames which are often “sexually charged.”

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“By having sophs use their real names, we’re also hoping to help our incoming students feel more welcome, safe and make authentic connections with their peer mentors. We know sophs provide the most immediate and highly valued support to students, so facilitating that connection is very important,” Highgate said.

These changes come after last year’s orientation week was the subject of national headlines when several social media reports suggested 30 or more students were drugged or assaulted in on-campus housing at Western University. Global News has not verified the reports.

An estimated 9000 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 Sep 17, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

The reports sparked widespread outrage and led to a student walkout against gender-based violence on campus, amassing around 10,000 people.

Read more: Western University students walk out in wake of sex assault claims: ‘Protect our campus’

One of the partners involved in helping the university develop a plan is Anova, the local women’s shelter which helps victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence.

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AnnaLise Trudell, manager of education, training and research at Anova, told Global News that changing sophs’ nicknames was a recommendation from both reports following last year’s orientation.

“In addition to sort of a sexualized connotation, what they did is they contributed to a sense that during that orientation week, it’s almost like an alternative reality, that the same rules that apply for the rest of the year and the rest of the world are put on pause during that week,” she said.

“What that can lead to is a sense that, you know, that week is a party culture week, it’s high drinking, but also the sense that whatever consent, education, and knowledge students come in with, it’s almost that that doesn’t even apply right now because we’re operating under different rules of practice.”

Click to play video: 'Queen’s students walk out to protest sexual violence on campus'
Queen’s students walk out to protest sexual violence on campus

In May, Western University unveiled the results of two reports looking into multiple complaints of sexual assault at the start of the 2021-2022 school year at Western University.

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The Action Committee on Gender-Based and Sexual Violence (GBSV) and an independent review were launched to look into the events of OWeek 2021.

The two reports, which the university says complement each other, 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.

“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, in May.

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