It’s not until you tap the final jigsaw puzzle piece into place that you finally see the larger image their components compose.
So, too, of Western’s weeks that have assembled themselves into a picture dramatically different from one we might have expected when 2021 began.
The planned and unexpected transformations of campus culture; our hard-won victories on the field and in the laboratories; the bold steps taken to improve equity, the environment, the ecosystem of education itself.
Each December, Western News hearkens back to the year-that-was through the people and events that made their mark on Western’s history in the previous 12 months.
But 2021 was a decidedly different year and its sweeping themes, more than specific events, will make it memorable.
Below, we’ve gathered some of the image fragments and representative quotes into a memory walk through a unique year at Western.
“People who are studying at this university or people who work here – we’re trying to make the world a better place. Western would like to have more impact, more influence on the world, and we have a lot to offer.” — Western president Alan Shepard about the strategic plan, Towards Western at 150
The new, ambitious, far-ranging strategic plan reflects the insights of hundreds in the Western community and helps answer the questions: who are we? and who do we aspire to become?
It draws upon a collective passion to make an impact in research, teaching, scholarship and creative arts; to create avenues that allow everyone on campus to thrive and belong; and to strengthen connections with the city and the world.
More than an academic exercise, it provides a roadmap to making Western “stronger, more energized, more influential, and more inclusive than ever before.”
And it’s a call-to-action for the community to, “Reimagine your program. Rethink your workplace. Strengthen your purpose.”
“We’re embedding sustainability into every facet of our operations and research strategies – whether its ‘greening up’ campus open spaces; earmarking ever-higher percentages of our endowments for environmentally responsible investments; or working to bring to life healthier watersheds and new, super-efficient battery technologies.”— Lynn Logan, co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Environment and Sustainability
Western expanded its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint: in everything the university purchases and consumes and everywhere it invests.
Sustainability has meant looking at the big picture – reducing the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 – by doing the “little” things right.: From a 65-per-cent drop in the carbon footprint of its public equity investments during the past five years, to bird-friendly windows and non-plastic utensils in eating areas – the university’s strategic sustainability initiatives are gaining traction
Western has also ranked among universities in the global top five per cent in sustainability and impact, joined the University Coalition on Climate Change and supported game-changing research, including creating new pathways for open-source technology for solar panels.
TOGETHER AGAIN AND TAKING CARE
“Students, staff and faculty all deserve credit for wearing their masks, filling out the daily health screening questionnaire, monitoring their symptoms and staying home when unwell. This layered approach has allowed us to provide a safe return to on-campus learning and working.”– Matt Mills, director of health, safety and well-being
The COVID-19 pandemic threaded itself into almost every global conversation: case counts, medical ethics, public policy, research and vaccine development.
At Western, the mantra to take care of self, campus and community served as an anchor through the uncertainties that developed almost daily.
Having started the calendar year with most classes taking place online, Western in February 2021 became one of the first universities in Ontario to plan for and announce a return to in-person classes.
The decision came with a full suite of safety measures, including upgraded building ventilation, enhanced sanitization, mandatory masking indoors, and nearly 100 per cent of the campus community registering proof of vaccination.
As a result of these precautions, study spaces, offices, classrooms and labs reopened. OWeek took place in a limited capacity and sports teams resumed play. It wasn’t pre-2019 “normal” but it was a nearer to normal than we’d experienced for more than a year.
COVID-19 reminded the world of its resilience when the omicron variant, identified in December, spread across the world and also landed at London, Ont.’s doorstep. Western, as a preventive measure, announced the final days of exams would be moved online.
“Entrepreneurship is the engine of the Canadian economy. It’s a perpetuating wheel. By creating the ecosystem that involves students academics and alumni, we will eventually become the go-to university for entrepreneurship anywhere.”— Philanthropist and entrepreneur Pierre Morrissette, MBA’72, LLD’10
Entrepreneurial education, support, innovation and leadership took on a bold new shape with a visionary $5.5-million investment from the Pierre L. Morrissette Family Foundation.
The gift brings two decades of entrepreneurship research, education and programming created at Ivey Business School to students in all disciplines, and to entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey through the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, Powered by Ivey.
This renewed emphasis on entrepreneurship also found support in a $1-million gift from the Sabourin Family Foundation to create a new undergraduate student award program, and to fund innovative programming and Western’s soon-to-be-built Entrepreneurship and Innovation Building.
To build business leaders with character, Ivey Business School received a new $3.5-million gift that will enhance teaching, research and outreach through the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership.
EDI-D AND INDIGENEITY
“In my vision of an inclusive Western, all voices are invited and welcome. In the Western we deserve, we intentionally seek out diverse voices to participate in building an inclusive space.” — Opiyo Oloya, associate vice-president, equity, diversity and inclusion
Future years may not recall Western’s decision to invest $6 million in equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization (EDI-D) initiatives. But the lasting impact of that commitment is expected to bring about lasting transformation to the character and culture of the university.
In response to the final report of the Anti-Racism Working Group, Western earmarked $4 million to support the recruitment of Black and Indigenous faculty; $1 million to support EDI curriculum development; and $1 million for Indigenizing the university curriculum.
Western named Opiyo Oloya as its inaugural associate vice-president of EDI and Christy R. Bressette began her appointment as vice-provost and associate vice-president (Indigenous Initiatives). Together, Bressette and Oloya led two webinars in the fall that moved their audiences to tears and action.
Understanding that the goal is no less ambitious than systemic change, Western named its first-ever EDI advisory council, undertook its first-ever equity census, began planning for a national forum on reconciliation and created Engineering fellowships for Indigenous and Black doctoral students. Western also became a signatory to the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education.
“[Western’s United Way commitment] says a lot about the importance to the Western community of the broader community, and that we are all connected. Individually and collectively, that translates to a considerable impact.” — Erika Chamberlain, Western Law dean and co-chair, Western’s United Way campaign
The year 2021 brought renewed emphasis to Western’s role as a portal linking students and researchers with the community, and as a campus that makes a local and global difference.
In October, Western announced a reimagined core presence with the $7.3-million purchase of a former law building for use as a downtown campus hub – a place where teaching and learning can take place, and where Western can contribute to and share arts and culture.
Students’ experiential learning opportunities grew and made a real difference. Among the scores of examples: public history students embedding heritage into an affordable-housing project on former South Street Hospital lands; a community-focused research project to help Londoners succeed after homelessness; history tours and interpretations of Labatt Memorial Park, the world’s oldest continuously operating ballfield; and expansion of the Hockey FIT program that provides affinity-based wellness programs for men.
And while some of these are small-group or departmental projects, a broad swath of Western community members participated in a student-led cabinet clean-out in support of the London Food Bank and found new ways to be generous through Western’s United Way Elgin Middlesex campaign.
“We’re seeing if we can cause a remission – we can’t call it a cure – in people who are newly diagnosed by changing the way we treat diabetes from day one.”— Diabetes researcher Irene Hramiak
Western broke new ground in understanding diabetes, while marking the centennial of Sir Frederick Banting’s discovery of insulin. Exceptional research took place in battling against the complex consequences of COVID-19, from neurological after-effects, to vaccine ethics, to social and educational inequities and operating room backlogs.
Western research is changing the world and transforming how the world perceives itself.
Engineering professor Slobodan Simonovic launched Canada’s first country-wide flood map projecting which areas would be most vulnerable to flooding during best- and worst-case future climate change scenarios. A week later, when water inundated British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, and caused what’s expected to be Canada’s costliest flood disaster, that map had received more than 16 million views.
Researchers learned that gait patterns can indicate signs of cognitive decline. They formed a partnership that may use bat tissue to help respond to the next pandemic. A dozen Western researchers were named Canada Research Chairs in areas as diverse as neuroscience, Indigenous education and polymeric coatings.
“Sexual and gender-based violence is pervasive in our society and we need to make Western a leader in addressing, and especially preventing, these forms of violence. This will be challenging, but also an opportunity to work across our campus and with the London community to implement real solutions.”— Nadine Wathen, Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-based Violence and co-chair of Western’s action committee on gender-based and sexual violence
This fall, Western launched a student safety action plan in response to calls for a change in culture and improved campus safety sparked by allegations of sexual violence.
Mandatory GBSV prevention and awareness training for all students in residence was launched in mid-September, with training for all students and employees in development.
An action committee on GBSV was established in October, co-chaired by Wathen and Terry McQuaid, director for wellness and well-being (student experience).
Residence health and safety advisors began working overnight shifts in November, with 100 expected to be in place in the new year.
A new partnership between Western and the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program of St. Joseph’s Health Care London will provide additional, 24/7 support on campus to students.
An independent review of policies and procedures is now underway, led by renowned lawyer and academic Nathalie Des Rosiers and Sonya Nigam, executive coordinator for the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education.
SUPPORTING AND CELEBRATING STUDENTS
“We have a responsibility as global citizens to create opportunities for access to education and research, and to respond in times of dire need.”— Lise Laporte, senior director of Western International
Western responded to world crises, including the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan. The university committed to scholarships supporting five Afghan refugee students and two scholars-at-risk; with support from the community, Western established scholarships to honour victims of an attack in London that killed a Muslim family of five.
Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry welcomed its first class in its MD+ stream, an innovative program that offers students different interdisciplinary pathways to medical degrees.
Western also celebrated excellence in six outstanding incoming students awarded Schulich Leader Scholarship and in five PhD students honoured as Vanier Scholars for their leadership and research. Three Indigenous students became the first recipients of Western’s new National Indigenous Scholarships in September, part of the university’s expanded investment in Indigenous recruitment and financial aid.
“There are so many stories of wonderful athletes, really great people and quite accomplished teams. My focus was to help create the best playing field for the teams, and the joy of my job was to cheer them on.”— Helen Luckman, Western Mustangs Hall of Fame inductee
It’s almost impossible to mark a year at Western without noting its athletic milestones. A host of great athletes, coaches and builders – including lifetime achievements from Helen Luckman and Jack Cowin – into the Mustangs Hall of Fame.
Doubtless, many halls of fame will one day include world and Olympic gold medal decathlete Damian Warner, Canada’s athlete of the year. His coaching, training and medical support team is a who’s-who of Western connections, including Western track & field coach Vickie Croley.
We remembered iconic multi-sport coach Jack Fairs, who died at age 98, having led his teams to 52 team and individual provincial titles during a career that spanned more than half a century.