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Western University tightens campus security after reports of sexual violence, student death and arrests made.

Posted in Canada, Featured

Published on September 14, 2021 with No Comments

Western University has increased security on campus and in student residences following several reports of sexual assault during Orientation Week. Around the same time, a first-year student died after a violent assault near campus, adding to students’ sense of shock.

Four formal complaints of sexual violence from students have been received by the London, Ont., university over the past week, said Chris Alleyne, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services. Some of the complaints have led to arrests, he added.

“We have taken swift and strong action in these cases, including facilitating arrest and removing students from residence while investigations continue,” Alleyne said in a statement, adding sexual violence “will never be tolerated at Western.”

“We will continue to take action on every disclosure and complaint,” he said.

The assaults allegedly occurred during Orientation Week, which began Sept. 6 and ended Sunday. Reports of sexual violence first emerged through a series of posts on social media, where it was alleged that female students were drugged and sexually assaulted in the last days of orientation at Medway-Sydenham Hall residence. None of those reports have been verified by the Star, though London police said they are investigating the allegations.

Alleyne said the four complaints Western received “do not appear” to be connected to each other or what has been reported on social media.

On the same weekend, a first-year Health Sciences student, 18-year-old Gabriel Neil, was violently assaulted Saturday morning near the Western Student Recreation Centre. Neil suffered life-threatening injuries and died in hospital Sunday evening. Police arrested 21-year-old Aliyan Ahmed, who has been charged with manslaughter.

Students have since expressed feeling unsafe on campus, including third-year Western University student and orientation week leader Lauryn Bikos, who  wrote in a series of tweets that she and others are shaken in the aftermath of the violence on campus.

“There are no words to describe how badly the past 72 hours have impacted this community,” Bikos wrote, adding this year’s orientation week has been “brutal” and the aggression towards students and orientation leaders on campus is “terrifying.”

Liam Afonso, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper The Gazette, said “The atmosphere here is hard to describe. It’s sombre,” adding students are “in a state of shock” over the death of a student and the recent allegations of sexual assault that have left some women feeling unsafe.

“There’s so much going on, it’s hard to wrap your head around,” said Afonso, who’s been at the university for five years and has never seen such a raucous start to the school year.

“What is it about this year that has caused all this to happen? … That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “A lot of people have been asking that and I truly don’t know, but something is different this year.”

In a statement Monday, London Police Service said it has opened an investigation into alleged sexual assaults at Medway-Sydenham Hall, a residence building at Western University, though it has not received any formal reports tied to the allegations.

Police said they did receive two sexual assault reports in the week prior, however, that occurred at other locations on campus. “These incidents remain under investigation, and part of that investigation will include examining possible linkages to any unreported incidents,” police spokesperson Const. Scott Mandich said.

In a letter emailed on Saturday to residents of Medway-Sydenham Hall, residence life co-ordinator Jacob Clarke acknowledged students “may have heard rumours regarding incidents of gender-based or sexual violence in Med-Syd.”

“We are currently following up with information that has come forward and will be utilizing campus and community resources such as Campus Safety and Emergency Services and London Police Services as needed,” according to the letter published in the  student paper The Gazette.

“We wish to ensure that followup occurs with anyone who has experienced harm. Please reach out to a Residence Life Co-ordinator for support. If you have been impacted or have witnessed an incident of gender-based violence, you are encouraged to share information.”

The events occurred during a week that got off to a turbulent start.

In a joint statement on Sept. 7, the university’s president and vice-chancellor, Alan Shepard, and the president of the University Students’ Council, Zamir Fakirani, warned: “We’ve seen a disturbing trend over the last few days that puts our entire year in jeopardy.

“This past weekend there were several large gatherings near campus — along with some aggressive behaviour that put the safety of others at risk. This activity is a blatant disregard for the campus community, public health, and the law,” they wrote.

As reported in The Gazette, the letter was in response to rowdy crowds that had gathered, on and off campus, and social media postings showing students parting on residential streets, jumping off of electrical poles and from atop parked cars. The letter warned that if the rowdiness continues, in-person learning and extracurriculars will be lost.

Bikos, the Orientation Week leader, added in her Twitter posts that aggression on campus during orientation was not limited to the alleged sexual assaults. She said she and other orientation leaders were called profanities when asking students to wear a mask at events.

In her posts, Bikos called out the university for not suspending classes following the death of a student to give people time to grieve. She also asked Western to implement meaningful changes to address what she said is a “toxic” culture. “We have the right to feel safe on campus,” Bikos wrote.

Incidents of sexual violence on the campus have been documented in the past, namely in a 2018 Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey done on behalf of Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. A  report of the results  revealed 71.6 per cent of Western students surveyed had experienced sexual harrassment on campus within a year of the survey — the highest of any Ontario university or college.

On Sunday, the University Students’ Council posted a statement saying it is “heartbroken with what we are hearing within residences and on campus.” The student-led organization added Monday that it is assessing recent incidents and working on adjusting programming as a result. 

“While we cannot comment on investigations taking place, we want to make it absolutely clear that we hear you, we stand with survivors, and we are here to take your feedback on how Western can be a safer campus,” the statement on Sunday said. “We also want to ensure that students are able to access the support that they need.” 

 

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