On Friday, thousands of students, faculty and supporters took part in a walkout and march at Western University, protesting a “culture of misogyny” on campus.
The walkout comes after dozens of students were allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted at Medway-Sydenham Hall, a student residence on campus, during orientation week.
While four students have come forward with formal complaints to Western and London police, it is alleged that up to 30 students experienced sexual violence in recent days.
On Thursday, the Western Gazette, Western University’s official student publication, released harrowing accounts from students who witnessed or experienced the assault during orientation week.
They described it as “violence” and “chaos.”
One survivor, a first-year student living on campus in residence, shared that she was sexually assaulted after visiting the dorm room of two male students with her roommate.
After sitting on one of the dorm beds, the student said the assailant suddenly forced himself on top of her, pushing his hand into her face.
“I couldn’t move. His hand was covering my face really hard,” the student told the Western Gazette. “It felt like I was punched in the nose.”
As he began to push her down onto the bed, she said she told him “no” repeatedly.
Once the survivor was pinned down, she said her attacker began restraining her legs and tried to restrain her arms. He then pressed his arm into her chest, preventing her from breathing, and started touching her.
That’s when she began to yell, “I don’t want to.”
It was then that the survivor’s roommate, who was on the other side of the room, intervened and freed her.
Another student told the Western Gazette that she had found a female student lying on the ground outside. She was later told the girl had been drugged.
“Her stomach was over the curb, and her arms were out and it looked like she was sleeping,” she told the student newspaper. “A couple of her girlfriends were surrounding her, and then an ambulance came.”
Others described the night of Sept. 10 during orientation week at Medway-Sydenham Hall as a scene of chaos, with ambulances, fire trucks and students being taken to hospital on stretchers.
Western University has some of the highest rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the province, according to a 2019 report from the Council of Ontario Universities—with almost a third of students identifying themselves as sexual assault survivors.
In a press conference on Tuesday, London police chief Steve Williams and Western University president Alan Shepard gave updates on the ongoing police investigation of the reported sexual assaults on campus, including the arrest of one person.
On Thursday, Western unveiled a new action plan on tackling sexual violence, with Shepard saying that “we let our students and families down.”
Among the new measures is a requirement to have all students living in residence take in-person training on sexual violence, consent and personal safety.
The university also announced the hiring of 100 “safety ambassadors” for students in residence and 15 new security guards, the reactivation of foot patrols and upgrading lighting and security access to buildings.
The university also said it was creating a task force on sexual violence and student safety “to better understand and eradicate sexual violence and create a campus culture where these unacceptable actions are prevented.”
“I think all universities have work to do with respect to sexual violence, and I don’t think Western is alone in that respect,” Shepard said.
“We have a lot of work to do as a community,” he later said in a release. “I’ve spoken with students who are hurting, and we are here to listen, and to collaborate with them to find a better way forward.”
On Thursday, the province announced that post-secondary institutions would have to update their sexual violence and harassment policies to better support students who come forward with complaints.