Students at Western University are planning a walkout Friday to demand action against sexual violence on campus amid swirling speculation over assaults at a first-year residence.
The campus community is on edge following the slaying of a first-year student and rumours of several alleged sexual assaults at the 613-student Medway-Sydenham Residence, speculation that has caught fire on social media just as the school year begins.
London police said they’re working with the university to investigate the “serious and disturbing allegations” but have found very little information so far. London’s police chief said Tuesday there have been no reports of assaults at the residence, known as Med-Syd.
Police have probed three separate complaints of sexual assault involving four female students at locations not connected to Med-Syd, Chief Steve Williams said. A male student was arrested but is no longer in custody, and no charges have been laid, he said.
Hayden Van Neck is among more than 20 Western students organizing a walkout Friday to show support for sexual assault survivors and protest against what they describe as the “prevalent threat of rape culture on campus.
“We’ve been outraged by the recent events on our campus; the sexual gender-based violence as well as a separate act of violence,” said Van Neck, a third-year psychology student. “At our core, we’re gathering as a community on Friday to show support, but also, we’d like to call on our institution to make some changes to avoid having to do this in the future.”
Organizers have laid out several demands, including mandatory training on gender-based and sexual violence education for students, faculty and staff; clarity on the process to report sexual violence; and accountability in creating a safer campus.
Students are asked to walk out of class Friday at noon and gather in front of University College (UC) Hill before making their way around the university. Details of the route are to be made public soon.
Participants are asked to wear a mask and the colour teal, which represents sexual assault awareness month, held in April.
The walkout will feature speakers from survivors of sexual assault and local organizations, including Teigan Elliott, a member of a student-led King’s University College group dedicated to studying and fighting sexual violence.
Unsure of exact numbers, she said her team expects to see a “significant turnout” Friday, adding social media posts have already garnered engagement from thousands.
The event comes just days after the death of Gabriel Neil, a first-year student who was assaulted at about 2 a.m. Saturday in a parking lot at the intersection of Sarnia and Western roads. He later died in hospital. Police have charged a 21-year-old London man with manslaughter in his death.
An online petition, which can be found here, had more than 4,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Western Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) Walkout
WHEN: Friday at noon
WHERE: In front of University College (UC) Hill at Western University.
INFO: On Instagram at instagram.com/sgbvwalkoutuwo/ or on Twitter @UWOSGBVWalkout.