As Western’s student safety action plan continues to roll out, new health and safety advisors will begin working overnight shifts in student residences on November 7.
These roles are part of the university’s efforts to address student safety and examine campus culture. Other measures include mandatory gender-based and sexual violence (GBSV) awareness and prevention training and the establishment of a GBSV action committee.
More than 60 new advisors have completed their training, which includes online modules and “shadow shifts” with current advisors, some who have been serving in the role since last year. The number of advisors is expected to grow to 100 by the end of November.
Enhanced student engagement
Chris Lengyell, director of housing, said the health and safety advisors “will be another set of eyes and ears on the ground” as they engage with students, provide educational conversations, address and document behaviour, and escalate concerns as necessary.
“This expanded complement will enable us to have a much more significant presence in our residence community during peak times of activity,” he said.
The advisor roles are paid positions, adding to Western’s existing system of student safety and support, which includes residence staff, residence life coordinators, security, campus safety and emergency services, and other leaders on campus.
The roles have been primarily filled by upper-year and graduate students who, as part of the peer-to-peer model, “bring an additional element of maturity and lived experience,” Lengyell said. This helps lessen the weight placed on undergraduate dons to address behaviours of first-year peers.
The new cohort of health and safety advisors will work overnight shifts in the university’s nine undergraduate residences from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., seven days a week.
The advisors will be managed by residence and health and safety coordinators, who will supervise the shifts, providing professional support and strategic direction between 8:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
Unique approach to safety
The residence health and safety advisors have received online training in active listening; equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization; frameworks for helping; behaviour management; and general residence contract, policies and procedures.
Training through “shadow shifts” with current advisors allows them to experience what they’ve learned on the ground, Lengyell said.
“To my knowledge there are no other universities in Canada currently implementing a program like this to our size and scale,” he said. “There is a real opportunity for Western to lead on this.”
Action committee in place
With all members now in place, the newly established GBSV action committee will be meeting for the first time on Tuesday, Nov. 2. The committee includes undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, a parent and community members.
Co-chaired by Terry McQuaid, director for wellness and well-being (student experience) and a leading expert in equity, mental health and sexual violence prevention, and Nadine Wathen, professor and Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-Based Violence, the committee is focusing its efforts on four activities:
- listening to students’ and community members’ perspectives on GBSV issues;
- identifying gaps and opportunities in GBSV policies at Western;
- collecting ideas from other universities on their GBSV policies and initiatives;
- recommending measures for meaningful, immediate and visible change in Western’s campus culture.
Student training underway
Mandatory GBSV awareness and prevention training in Western’s residences began the week of Sept. 20, with residence dons facilitating in-person floor meetings with students to share information about the available supports and resources on campus and in the community.
On Oct. 21, mandatory online training modules, jointly developed by Western, the Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children and community partners such as Anova, began rolling 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 November 15, facilitated in-person, small group sessions will engage students further in topics such as upstander intervention skills, and GBSV as a societal issue and its impact on our community. Initial sessions are being piloted with select groups of student leaders and first-year students to gather feedback which will be used to inform a broader launch for all residence students in late November. Multiple sessions will be made available to ensure all students can participate according to their class schedules.
Western is looking to eventually expand training to the entire student body, with a training program for employees currently under development.