Physical spaces at Western, including residences, are continually being examined, re-examined and improved through the lens of community safety, say two members of Western’s action committee on gender-based and sexual violence.
From millions of dollars spent on lighting upgrades to hiring more special constables and even to landscaping design, “physical space and environmental safety is something Western has made a priority,” said Lisa Highgate, associate director, residence conduct and conflict resolution.
“Our campus is safe. However, it’s important to review our practices regularly and continue to make improvements to ensure that people are and feel safe on campus,” added Western special constable Kim Reynolds. “Incidents of stranger violence on campus are rare. Of the few incidents that do take place on campus, most are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. But it’s still critical to build deterrence into design and into people deployment to enhance safety and the feeling of safety on campus.”
Highgate and Reynolds and other members of Western’s action committee on gender-based and sexual violence are taking a comprehensive approach in scrutinizing campus safety and culture.
The committee – co-chaired by Nadine Wathen, Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-based Violence, and Terry McQuaid, Western director of wellness and well-being – is one element of the university’s broader action plan to enhance student safety.
Six new special constables, reflective of the diversity of the campus community, have been hired to augment the existing 24/7 service, under new Western Special Constable Service director Bill Chantler.
Two of those constables were sworn in last month, while four others will complete their field training over the next few months, Reynolds said.
Additional security guards have also been hired to work alongside Western special constables.
The complement of health and safety advisors and of overnight staff in residences has also increased, said Highgate. “This allows a greater responsiveness, including directing students to on-call supports, damage concerns, noise complaints and deterrence of other issues just by their presence.”
The return of students to campus has also meant a return of Western Foot Patrol, an evening service where pairs of students accompany other students to or from class or on-campus events.
“The more people there are on campus, the more extra eyes and ears there are. That enhances safety and feelings of safety, providing an additional layer of protection and support,” Reynolds said.
In addition, Western has implemented a number of other safety measures:
- $7.5 million has been spent on exterior lighting upgrades in the past decade – $1.5 million in the past two years alone, including better-lit pathways, roadways and buildings
- 26 blue emergency phones on campus that connect callers directly to Western special constables
- Parking services offers stranded motorists roadside service, such as battery boosting on campus
- All campus buildings, including residences, have interior and exterior security cameras, and older cameras have been upgraded
Residences have controlled entry through key cards and front desks are staffed around the clock, Highgate noted.
Even landscaping takes safety into account, with wide and well-maintained pathways and trimmed bushes and high-branched trees for improved sightlines, said Reynolds.
“Landscaping in general can be a deterrent because regular maintenance demonstrates shared ownership of space. It says, ‘We are here, and we are taking notice.’”
Many of these measures are integral to Western’s Open Space Strategy in which safety, accessibility and walkability are key features.
Even so, there is more to be done, the committee acknowledged.
“Ultimately, there needs to be a holistic solution” to gender-based and sexual violence, Ziyana Kotadia, vice president, university affairs, with the University Students’ Council, said recently.
That includes not just built environment on campus but proactive education, policy, procedures and prevention, Kotadia said.
“Safety and belonging on campus are deeply tied to many factors, including amenities and physical spaces. They add to the cultural narratives that say, ‘everyone is welcome, and everyone will have safe access,’” said Kotadia.
Meanwhile, other initiatives have rapidly ramped up, including:
- Mandatory GBSV response and prevention training for all students in residence, with programming support from a range of campus, community and survivor experts
- Mandatory training for faculty and staff in handling disclosures of sexual violence
- A survey for the campus community about their safety-related perspectives and experiences on campus
- A survey of partners and collaborators to more than 30 community agencies and groups, including members of the London Coordinating Committee to End Woman Abuse.
Based on four interim recommendations from the GBSV action committee, Western has made additional commitments for this fall focused on preparing incoming students and their parents/caregivers for the transition to campus; providing a coordinated process to hire and train sophs and peer mentors; enhancing the number of support staff in residence; and providing additional staff dedicated to anti-GBSV efforts. The committee’s final report is expected this spring.
In addition, an independent review of events that transpired on campus, off campus and online during the weekend of Sept. 10-11 is underway with a view to identifying gaps and outlining recommendations.
This article is part of a series highlighting Western’s work to prevent gender-based and sexual violence and support survivors.
If you need help now:
Western’s survivor-focused supports for those affected by sexual violence include a dedicated gender-based violence and survivor support case manager (519-661-3568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org). Survivors have support options, including disclosure, filing a complaint and/or requesting support.
In emergency situations, Western’s Special Constable Service and St. Joseph’s Health Care Regional Sexual Assault Program(519-646-6100 x64224) are available 24/7, or a call to 9-1-1 connects to London police, fire or paramedic services. Those visiting St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Urgent Care Centre should ask to speak to the nurse on-call for sexual assault/domestic violence.
Anova also operates a 24/7 support and crisis line at 519-642-3000.