What role do Western University's fraternities have in ending gender-based violence?

Western's student council is looking at cutting ties with the London, Ont., university's fraternities and sororities. The University Students' Council president says the consideration is unrelated to last month's sexual assault allegations.

Student council is considering cutting ties with fraternities and sororities

Claudia Allen, Amy Cater and Katie Tone, left to right, are third-year Western University students who were part of protests last month again gender-based violence. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

The University Students' Council (USC) at Western University has tabled a motion to limit its ties with the school's fraternities and sororities.

The consideration comes on the heels of last month's sexual assault allegations, although USC president Zamir Fakirani says the two are unrelated. 

"This motion was a response to students hoping for the USC to formally define our relationship with Greek Life, but was not a response to any allegations of wrongdoing in relation to recent events," said Fakirani.

The student union doesn't ratify fraternities or sororities as it does other clubs. But through an informal process, it offers fraternities subsidized space in the University Community Centre, supports their recruitment efforts and gives a number of non-voting positions to fraternity members on council. 

That could change when the motion is debated during the next council meeting on Oct. 27.

Thousands of students at the London, Ont., university walked out of class last month, calling for end to sexual violence on campus. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)
London Morning host Rebecca Zandbergen talks to Students' Council president Zamir Fakirani about fraternities. 11:13

Student perceptions of fraternities

"I've been hearing from students that we should be improving our relationship with Greek Life, but I've also been hearing the opposite — that we should be cutting ties," said Fakirani.

"A lot of it revolves around the role Greek Life plays in promoting the culture we have on our campus, whether that's with respect to drinking or partying, or often times consent," he said. "We know that any time and any place alcohol is served, the likelihood of gender-based violence occurring is intensified."

Last month, police made arrests in separate incidents after four students reported being sexually assaulted. The university and police are also investigating widespread reports of sexual violence during orientation week that circulated on social media, mainly through the video-sharing app TikTok. 

On Friday, police said they have turned up "no formal reports" of sexual violence from frosh weekend, but the investigation remains open and they will continue to gather information.

Jordan Decker, 20, who is studying geography and business, said although fraternities do some good community work, she alleges they perpetuate "a lot of toxic traits on campus." 

Although the reports of sexual violence during orientation are still under investigation, and not proven in court, student Kyara Vuorensyrja, 18, who lives in residence, said: "I don't know the specifics of what happened, but basically from what I've heard, the girls that had been roofied were at a frat party. I don't know if that's true or not, but I can see that happening."

The Delta Upsilon Fraternity at Western is considered the oldest affiliated with the campus and located on Central Avenue in downtown London. (Delta Upsilon Western Ontario/Facebook)

Fraternity response

Since Sept. 21, CBC News has repeatedly reached out to a number of fraternity representatives at Western and also to the school's Interfraternity Council to talk about their role in ending gender-based violence.

No one agreed to an interview. But the Interfraternity Council (IFC), which represents all fraternities on campus, which depending on who you ask is between seven and 11, provided a statement: 

"There is absolutely no place for sexual or gender-based violence in our community," reads the text to London Morning host Rebecca Zandbergen.

"The Interfraternity Council at Western University stands in solidarity with victims of assault. We will continue our efforts in fighting against sexual violence by continuing to educate our members with the guidance and expertise from accredited organizations who specialize in these issues," the text continued.

"Fraternities have a very important role to play in tackling gender-based and sexual violence on campus," said Jennie Massey, Western's former associate vice-president of student experience.

"I think we have to work with men to unpack gender stereotypes and encourage them to question their understanding of what it means to to be a man." 

Massey also worries that because the university doesn't officially sanction sororities or fraternities, it doesn't provide any oversight.

"Fraternities effectively run alongside the campus activities and have a strong influence on student culture," she said. "That lack of oversight and accountability can be somewhat of a risk to students and to the university more broadly."

Western University students protest campus culture

4 months ago
Duration 2:08
Thousands of students at Western University walked out of classes Friday to protest misogyny and rape culture, and support survivors of sexual violence on campus. It comes after four women made formal complaints about being sexually assaulted at the London, Ont., university and there have been allegations of many more assaults. 2:08

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted or who is affected by these reports. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.



Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 20 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.