Western University implements new sexual violence training

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Content warning: this article discusses sexual violence.

Concerns regarding the security of students attending Western University (WesternU) have arisen with the beginning of the fall term. A student-led walkout was held on September 17 in protest of the revelations of several sexual assaults being reported the following week by WesternU students.

Students held a protest on September 17 in response to the increased reports of sexual violence at Western University. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Response from university

In response to this culture problem, Western University President Alan Shepard released a statement on September 16: 

“This has been a tremendously difficult time for our students and the entire Western community. We have a cultural problem that we need to address. We let our students and their families down. The measures announced today are the first step in a journey to deeply examine the prevailing culture on our campus and identify what more we can do to ensure the safety and security of every member of our community.”

As of September 20, training in consent, personal safety, gender-based and sexual violence awareness, and prevention measures has begun for all students attending Western University.

Mandatory training implemented

Mandatory training is being led by research experts and additional training will be developed for faculty and staff. Students will be receiving training in consent, personal safety, bystander training, gender-based violence, measures, and sexual assault.

Developed in consultation with Western’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children, the training will roll out to all 5,300 students living in Western’s 10 residences. The training includes a combination of an in-person discussion of content, skill-building activities, and some online education.

Statement from the Wellness Director

“We have heard there are gaps in some students’ understanding of the meaning and impact of gender-based and sexual violence, as well as opportunities where we at Western can underscore its seriousness,” said Terry McQuaid, WesternU director of wellness and well-being.

“Events of the past several days have made us re-examine the prevailing culture on campus and identify areas for improvement to ensure the safety and security of our community. This enhanced training is one crucial element of our commitment – as individuals and as an institution – to listen better and do better.”

Plan includes a new “task force”

The action plan is being initiated by introducing new security measures, including hiring new special constables and enhancing security patrols in and around campus. 

A “task force” on Sexual Violence and Student Safety has also been introduced to better understand and eradicate sexual violence. WesternU has stated that they hope by creating and implementing these actions, they can simultaneously create a campus culture where these unacceptable actions are prevented.

Policy an addition to previous changes

These measures are in addition to changes that have already been made in recent months:

  • Hiring 15 new security guards, increasing the number by four times.
  • Re-activating the Foot Patrol program where peers escort students on campus at their request. 
  • Upgrading and increasing blue light phones, building alarms, lighting, security card access system, and security cameras on campus.
  • Making additional counselling available for students.

Task force will involve all members of university

The WesternU task force will have significant student involvement and input, including their mandate, which will be developed in consultation with Western’s student leaders, the University Students’ Council, and the Society of Graduate Students.

Students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community partners will have seats at the table. The Task Force will take a comprehensive look at student safety, including gender-based and sexual violence, as well as on-campus activities and programming.

More actions to follow

Shepard said these new actions are only the beginning. “Western is taking every necessary measure to ensure our students feel safe [..] For this education to influence behaviour change, this work will be ongoing and professionally facilitated, to truly influence behaviour change through education.”

“These are [important] steps to reduce violence and to support survivors. Unequivocally, we agree this must be a priority,” Chris Alleyne, associate Vice-President of Housing and Ancillary Services and acting co-associate Vice-President of Student Experience said. “Everyone is entitled to a home, a school, a workplace where they are safe from harassment, violence or the threat of violence.”

Supports for UNB students

Students on the UNB Saint John can contact Trish Pendleton, the campus’ Sexual Assault Support Advocate, by emailing csasa@unb.ca. She is working both remotely and on-campus this year.

Anyone affected by sexual violence can also contact the province’s sexual assault support line at 506-454-0437. More information UNB’s support services can be found here.