Western is doubling down on its students-first approach to delivering a strong campus experience, as the university begins returning to in-person learning this term and looks ahead to the fall.
“The Western community has had a challenging year, there’s no doubt about it,” said acting president Sarah Prichard, recalling the university’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the community’s work in the aftermath of social media reports of gender-based and sexual violence during Orientation Week in September 2021.
“We’ve taken a number of steps this year to enhance support for our students, and we know there is more to do as we begin bringing students back to campus,” said Prichard. “It’s our number one priority.”
On Jan. 20, Western announced the consolidation of all student health and wellness services under one roof in the newly renovated Thames Hall. The $20-million renovation project, driven by Western’s Student Mental Health and Wellness Strategic Plan, provides a single intake point for medical care, counselling services, and wellness and equity education.
Western also continues a range of efforts to enhance safety on campus, including the ongoing work of the action committee on gender-based and sexual violence; new training and prevention programs; and an independent review of policies and procedures following the events of last Sept. 10 and 11.
“We’re looking forward to the recommendations of the action committee and the external reviewers – which together will help Western make further strides in supporting our current students and those who will join us in September,” said Prichard.
While Western students returned to full in-person learning for the fall term with a 99 per cent vaccination rate and zero on-campus transmission, the pervasiveness of the Omicron variant meant a return to remote learning for the start of the winter term and a phased plan for returning to in-person learning.
“We know this latest wave has been extremely difficult for so many in our community,” said Prichard. “Based on their personal circumstances, students, faculty and staff have differing views on the return to campus. We understand that. In the end, we are hopeful that our measured plan will ensure the best possible teaching and learning experiences for our community.”
As the university looks ahead to the fall and makes plans for a full year of in-person classes and activities, it is also preparing to bring in next year’s class. Western’s enrolment numbers have been strong for many years and last fall, the university welcomed its largest-ever class. Preliminary 2022-23 application numbers from Ontario high school students show a dip of 3.4 per cent in applications to Western.
Prichard noted that while it is not unusual for application numbers to fluctuate from year to year, the university is taking a careful look at what the early data might mean.
“Students have long been drawn to Western for an excellent learning environment and a rich on-campus experience,” said Prichard. “We remain committed to ensuring that’s what we continue to provide for students – and that the culture we build on campus is consistent with Western’s long-held values of integrity and respect.”
As work continues to progress in enhancing all aspects of student support at Western, Prichard looks ahead to a time when prospective students can visit campus in person again.
“We welcome the moment when we can invite students to visit Western’s beautiful campus,” said Prichard. “To get a close-up view of the academic environment, explore our world-class facilities, learn first-hand about supports in residence and elsewhere, and meet the people who make the Western experience special.”