Review of allegations at Western University finds evidence of at least one sexual assault

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Students gather for programming at University College Hill on the first day of orientation week, on Sept. 6, 2021.Yifei Zhang/The Globe and Mail

An independent review of allegations of drugging and sexual assault at a University of Western Ontario residence during orientation week has found evidence of at least one sexual assault and several students who believe they were drugged.

It concludes that no one knows how many students were sexually assaulted at Western during last September’s orientation week. In order to prevent future incidents, the review says the university should focus on addressing troubling aspects of the culture of orientation, improving the way orientation is managed and embedding the prevention of sexual violence into the fabric of campus life.

The review, released by the university Thursday, was led by legal scholar and Massey College principal Nathalie Des Rosiers and Sonya Nigam, executive co-ordinator of the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education.

It was commissioned by the university in the wake of allegations that circulated on social media stating as many as 30 students had been drugged and sexually assaulted on the weekend of Sept 10, 2021 at Medway-Sydenham Hall, a residence located on the university’s London, Ont., campus. London police, following up on the allegations, interviewed 600 students but received no formal complaints. Although the police investigation remains open, no charges have been laid.

How sexual-assault allegations at Western University spread rumour and recrimination in a weekend of fear

The allegations rocked the campus and prompted a student walkout where more than 10,000 students gathered to demand an end to sexual violence. Concerns about that weekend continued to loom throughout the academic year, with the university student council in March voting unanimously to declare a sexual and gender-based violence crisis on campus.

A second report was also released Thursday by a university action committee on gender-based and sexual violence, which was created in the wake of last September’s allegations. The committee made 22 recommendations, eight of them described as highest priority.

Western president Alan Shepard said the recommendations in the two reports, some of which overlap, are welcome and deserve careful study. He said the university has already taken a number of steps to improve staff and student training, as well as enhance campus security.

The university is now committing to re-evaluating its orientation week, establishing an advisory committee on gender-based and sexual violence, refining its training for students and staff, augmenting resources for prevention, education and response, and improving physical safety measures around campus.

“The impact of last September has rightly led us to look inward as an institution. We are re-examining our culture, our values, our policies and our approach to orienting students to campus life. And we are redoubling our efforts as a community to use this moment to generate real and lasting change,” Dr. Shepard said. “Changing culture will take time, persistence and the active engagement of all campus members to achieve.”

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