U of Sask. students rally against sexual violence after woman assaulted in campus building

Members of the University of Saskatchewan community gathered Thursday afternoon to rally against sexual violence on campus and call for better safety.

'Everyone's safety on this campus is a right, not a privilege,' says student who spoke at Thursday rally

Dozens of people gathered on the University of Saskatchewan campus on Thursday to rally against sexual violence on campus. (Chelsea Cross/CBC)

Members of the University of Saskatchewan community gathered Thursday afternoon to rally against sexual violence on campus and call for better safety. 

The rally was organized after a student was sexually assaulted on the Saskatoon university's campus at the end of September. 

A 22-year-old man has since been arrested and is facing charges of sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and uttering threats. 

On Thursday, dozens of students, faculty, staff and supporters gathered in Nobel Plaza holding signs with messages of support for survivors and calls for safety and accountability. 

Third-year student Aubrey-Anne Laliberte-Pewapisconias was one of the speakers at the rally. She said campus needs to be a place where it is "safe to learn, safe to study, safe to exist," and called on supporters to stand up for the most vulnerable members of the campus community.

"Being an Indigenous woman, when I leave the house at any time … my parents are worried," she said. "I see them being scared. I see them knowing for me, being an Indigenous woman walking around, the risk is super high. 

"It's so scary to live in that constant fear and know that you have to live with that."

Fellow third-year student Harleen Aurora also spoke at the rally. They described how international students also face additional barriers to getting help after experiencing sexual assault. 

"It is daunting to access systems you have never navigated before," Aurora said. "It is daunting to access help in the way that you need."

At the rally, Laliberte-Pewapisconias described the steps she feels she has to take to keep herself safe when walking through campus.

"Don't wear headphones.… Don't wear skirts. Don't leave your hair down, and have your keys in your hand. And that's hard. We should not have to walk around on this campus feeling like that ever," she said.

"Everyone's safety on this campus is a right, not a privilege." 

Laliberte-Pewapisconias is glad the university has temporarily increased some safety measures following the student's assault last month, including more in-person security patrols on campus.

But she is still worried about what will happen going forward. 

"Since hearing the news, I don't want to come here," she said. "I'm scared that these protections will go away, leaving way for something like this to happen again."

Jay Wilson, the university's interim vice-provost for teaching, learning and student experience, has been meeting with student leaders and other university administrators since news about the assault became public. 

"At this point, we are studying what has happened [and] we'll continue to follow many of the proactive policies and procedures that we have in place, but also looking for more opportunities to improve," he said. 

He said administrators are in conversation with on-campus protective services about how best to serve the campus community, particularly as COVID-19 restrictions have left fewer people on campus than usual.

"Oftentimes, when we have more people around, there are more people that you could ask for help … and just the presence of more bodies will make people feel safe," he said.

The university has also been promoting its uSafe app, which features emergency contact information, safety tips, a way to ask a friend to virtually walk you home and an emergency alert function. 

Wilson said undergraduate and graduate student representatives have "brought many practical and helpful suggestions forward."

"We are exploring all of those possibilities to ensure that our students continue to feel safe on campus," he said. "We're working on this together."

With files from Chelsea Cross.