Western officials are lauding a student-led ‘week of action’ and recommendations for prevention of gender-based and sexual violence.
The University Students’ Council (USC) is spearheading an anti-sexual and gender-based violence week of action Oct. 19 to 22, and has outlined recommendations for action, including mandatory education on consent and prevention.
Student safety and sexual violence prevention require active community activism and collaboration, said Terry McQuaid, the newly appointed co-chair of Western’s action committee on sexual and gender-based violence and director for wellness and well-being (student experience).
“As we continue our efforts toward a safe campus for all, I am pleased to see student government taking an active role in these efforts,” said McQuaid. “This kind of ongoing engagement will be critical to our success as a campus community.”
Members of the action committee, which McQuaid co-chairs with Nadine Wathen, professor and Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-based Violence, includes USC president Zamir Fakirani; kirstyn seanor, Society of Graduate Students president; Lisa Highgate, associate director, residence conduct and conflict resolution; Katreena Scott, academic director for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC); Jessie Rodger, executive director, Anova, a community organization supporting those who have faced gender-based violence; and Kimberly Reynolds, investigative staff sergeant, Western Special Constable Service.
Western has invited expressions of interest from undergraduate and graduate students, as well as from faculty and staff members from the Western, Brescia, Huron and King’s communities to sit on the action committee. One representative from each constituent group will be appointed.
“Advocacy will be an important part of our journey to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence, and we will continue to engage the student community in all our efforts,” president Alan Shepard said. “A number of the USC’s recommendations are aligned with actions Western has already undertaken and through the action committee, we look forward to working with student leaders to further strengthen prevention and education strategies.”
The action committee is the latest of a series of measures Western has undertaken since 2019 to address sexual and gender-based violence on campus. In September 2019, Western established a committee to review its sexual violence policy, which included extensive community consultation involving more than 400 responses from the Western community. The new policy came into effect May 1, 2020.
In early 2019, Western’s prevention education programming underwent an extensive review by a task force consisting of a diverse group of students, faculty and staff. The task force’s mandate was to develop a framework for gender-based and sexual violence prevention to act as an essential guide in coordinating and organizing prevention education efforts at Western. The work was completed in February 2020 with a report that outlines Western’s overarching approach to preventing sexual violence on campus, the progress so far, and next steps for prevention programming.
In June 2020, Western’s board of governors accepted a report summarizing the work of the task force, the steps taken to implement the recommendations, the number of formal complaints and investigations made under the sexual violence policy, and the next steps to increase prevention and response to gender-based and sexual violence at Western.
Last month, Western implemented mandatory training for all students in residence on sexual violence awareness and prevention. The University is looking to eventually expand training to the entire student body, with training for employees currently under development.
During the week of Sept. 20, residence dons facilitated in-person floor meetings with students in residence to share information about the available gender-based and sexual violence supports and resources on campus and in the community. On Oct. 21, mandatory online training modules, developed by Western, CREVAWC and community partners such as Anova, will be rolled out for all students in residence. By participating, students will have the opportunity to examine their own attitudes, behaviours and beliefs while learning supportive ways to identify and respond to disclosures of gender-based and sexual violence.
Beginning in November, facilitated in-person, small group sessions will engage students further in topics such as upstander intervention skills, and gender-based and sexual violence as a societal issue and its impact on our community.
Increased campus safety
As part of a comprehensive student safety plan, Western is recruiting 100 new residence health and safety advisors and has re-established faculty sophs’ ability to access and support first-year students in residence.
Western will be engaging a third-party to inquire into concerns raised by students about this year’s orientation week with details expected in the coming weeks.
“Student input on how to keep our campus safe is absolutely critical,” said Shepard. “We fully support our student leaders as they bring forward initiatives and ideas to achieve our shared goal of creating a safe environment for everyone at Western.”