Thousands of Western University students walk out to support survivors of sexual violence
London, Ont., university has new action plan and task force to increase student safety
Amid chants of 'stop the violence, no more violence,' thousands of Western University students walked out of class on Friday to protest misogyny and rape culture, and support survivors of sexual violence on campus.
Four women came forward with formal complaints last week on the London, Ont., campus, and there have been allegations of many more assaults on social media. In response, the school has formed a task force on student safety and sexual violence, and upped security measures.
"We are with you, we hear you, and we make a commitment to you today that we will continue to work until the culture on our campus is one of community and safety," one female organizer said to the mass gathering. "Academic institutions have been places where sexual violence has been carried out with shocking frequency.
"We are hopeful that with the collaboration of the wider community, the administrations steps will lead to a significant change in Western's culture."
The walkout had the support of administrators. Western president Alan Shepard said he understands the university has a problem with sexual violence and it has failed students who, in their first week, experienced out-of-control parties and not enough adult support.
"We see this [rally] as a positive step forward in publicly affirming a collective commitment to stop gender-based sexual violence. This is an opportunity to work together on Western's culture and to ensure everyone feels safe on campus," Western said in a statement.
On Thursday, Western announced its action plan and task force, which includes mandating in-person consent and violence prevention training for students, along with hiring additional security staff.
The Ontario government has also given universities until March 2022 to update their policies around reporting sexual violence to include provisions that will ensure alleged victims do not have to reveal their sexual history.
Students speak out
"The university needs to address sexual and gender-based violence. I think in the past, services are in place but things get swept under the rug," said Claudia Allen, a third-year student who attended the walkout. "I think the new security measures will help."
Her friend, Amy Cater, said she feels for the young women who were hurt in the last two weeks.
"It's nice that Western is giving it some attention and people are participating in this capacity, but for those girls, there's no going back — it's going to be a long journey for them. Western needs to be on their side."