LONDON, Ont.—A poster taped to a door hangs at Western University’s Medway-Sydenham Hall residence that says, “See something. Do something.”
In four words it encapsulates feelings of unease, and calls for action, which have unfolded at the residence and on a campus, where students are still battling allegations of sexual assault.
“Students are feeling frustrated and angry,” said fourth year student Gianna Kotdia. “Many of our students do not feel safe in residence or on campus. It has definitely been a tough few days for our students.”
Kotadia, Vice President, University Affairs, University Students Council, said, “Of course, not knowing the full details of what happened is scary.
It is unclear what happened at the residence last weekend, but a multitude of social media postings alleged that the girl students were drugged and sexually assaulted. London police are investigating three complaints of sexual violence resulting from the beating of four female students as well as first-year student Gabrielle Neal, but have yet to receive any formal complaints about other alleged incidents.
“This past weekend the London Police Service became aware of reports circulating on social media regarding allegations that several female students living in Medway-Sydenham Hall at Western University were drugged and sexually assaulted over the weekend Some reports suggest 30 or more students may have been victims, London Police Chief Steve Williams told a media conference on Tuesday, as he urged victims to come forward.
Police are actively investigating and going door-to-door at the 613-bed residence known as Med-Sid, talking to students and looking for any witnesses or victims.
Police are also investigating three reports of alleged sexual assault of four girl students at other locations on campus last week, but did not provide any further details about whether they happened during the frosh event or whether drugs or alcohol were involved. . Williams said a male student was arrested in one case, but has been released from custody. No allegation has been made.
The allegations of sexual violence surfaced during Orientation Week, which began on September 6 and ended on Sunday. That same weekend, 18-year-old Neil was violently attacked and received life-threatening injuries. He died in the hospital on Sunday evening. The police have arrested 21-year-old Aaliya Ahmed on the charge of murder. Police say there is no connection between Neil’s death and the alleged sexual assault.
Western University President Alan Shepard has said that “sexual violence on our campus will never be tolerated.” He described the social media reports as “very disturbing” and said, “Westerners are working round the clock to gather facts and act on them.”
The atmosphere on campus was tense on Tuesday, with some students whispering about the recent Orientation Week events, others expressing fear for their safety and still others expressing dismay at the school’s reputation for parties.
Several students declined to speak to reporters, but some who spoke to the star said they got drunk and behaved inappropriately with their peers at parties during frosh week. Some students said they received mixed messages from their couches – orientation volunteers – or residence dons: some told them to go out in groups, while others told them to avoid off-campus clubs and parties.
Paula Gomez, a 19-year-old third-year student, recalled her own frosh week experiences after arriving from Mexico in 2019, saying she was stunned by what she saw.
“I was looking at my side, and there were a lot of drunk girls, and a lot of boys trying to get close to her and touch her inappropriately.”
“Residence is supposed to be a safe place for all students and this is clearly not the case,” said second-year neuroscience student Luc Nocera, 19.
“It’s a reputation that Westerners have a lot of violent behavior … It’s kind of baked into the school’s culture and they have to change that.”
Her comments are echoed, in part, by the mother of a first-year Western student. He told the star not to identify him, so as to protect his son.
“I’m so angry,” she told Starr. “I’m scared for my baby. And I’m scared for those women.”
His son told him that people he knew were hanging out at Med-Sid over the weekend, but when things got out of control the women got drunk.
The mother shared her dismay in a signed letter emailed to the university president and his team, calling on them to “rapidly address the ongoing culture of toxic masculinity in Western countries.”
“Like Gabriel Neal’s parents, we left our 18-year-old son Western a week ago. He was excited, full of optimism and eager to hang out for us so he could settle in, meet new friends and adjust to university life,” she wrote. “A week later, he is terrified, dismayed and, based on the school’s handling of the events of the previous week, resigned to believe that he is alone. And this behavior is tolerated by the Western leadership.”
In the media conference on Tuesday, the university president said that the safety of the students is a priority.
“We’re calling people who have experienced this to help us get the information we need to investigate it,” Sheppard said. He also emphasized that students and survivors of sexual assault can seek help at the university. Western has increased security at its residences and has confidential counseling and specialized gender-based violence and survivor support professionals on site.
Some are demanding more action. A petition started on Tuesday change.org Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities was circulated by students calling for a “full formal investigation into Western University”.
In response, Minister Jill Dunlap said the Ontario government “strongly condemns all forms of violence” and that “no one needs to worry about sexual violence on or off campus.” She said her office is working to make regulatory changes that would strengthen college and university sexual violence policies. Updated policies will be announced in the coming weeks.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also said on Twitter: “As a father of four young women, I am disappointed to hear about the sexual assault allegations at Western University last week. All victims of sexual violence deserve justice. All students One should feel safe on campus.”
Anova, a gender-based shelter in London, said it is setting up a safe space in the West to support students on campus. Counselors will be on campus on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights to provide drop-in support to students.
After allegations of sexual violence surfaced, third-year student Hayden van Neck joined about 20 others in starting an Instagram page aimed at holding a student walkout on Friday to address their concerns.
Van Neck said of the sexual violence allegations, “some serious institutional change is needed to really stop things like this in the future.” “We want security for our students. The programs that are going on right now are mostly for aftercare, so we’re hoping to prevent… and essentially try to understand the underlying issues within the institution such as the malpractices that lead to sexual harassment and gender- based violence. “
Along with calls to action and plans for a walkout, they are calling for better training for sofas and don’ts, as well as mandatory distribution of educational materials on gender-based and sexual violence. They would also like the university to clarify sexual harassment reporting procedures.
Gomez, who is also helping organize the walkout, said she hopes to take her fight to “multiple schools.”
“It’s not just about Western University,” she said, it’s about rape culture on university campuses.
Van Neck said they are making it a priority to find and support any abuse survivors. “This is just the beginning.”