Toronto Star

Campus sees grim start to school year

Western students shaken after teen’s violent death, reports of sexual assaults


Western University has increased security on campus and in student residences following several reports of sexual assault during orientatio­n week. Around the same time, a firstyear student died after a violent assault near campus, adding to students’ sense of shock.

Four formal complaints of sexual violence from students have been received by the London, Ont., university over the past week, said Chris Alleyne, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services. Some of the complaints have led to arrests, he added.

“We have taken swift and strong action in these cases, including facilitati­ng arrest and removing students from residence while investigat­ions continue,” Alleyne said, adding that sexual violence “will never be tolerated at Western.”

“We will continue to take action on every disclosure and complaint,” he said.

The assaults allegedly occurred during orientatio­n week, which began Sept. 6 and ended Sunday. Reports of sexual violence emerged through a series of posts on social media, where it was alleged that female students were drugged and sexually assaulted in the last days of orientatio­n at Medway-Sydenham Hall residence. None of those reports have been verified by the Star, though London police said they are investigat­ing the allegation­s.

Alleyne said the four complaints Western received “do not appear” to be connected to each other or what has been reported on social media.

On the same weekend, a firstyear Health Sciences student, Gabriel Neil, 18, was violently assaulted Saturday morning near the Western Student Recreation Centre. Neil suffered life-threatenin­g injuries and died in hospital Sunday evening. Police arrested 21-yearold Aliyan Ahmed, who has been with manslaught­er.

Students have since expressed feeling unsafe on campus, including third-year Western University student and orientatio­n week leader Lauryn Bikos, who wrote in a series of tweets that she and others are shaken in the aftermath of the violence.

“There are no words to describe how badly the past 72 hours have impacted this community,” Bikos wrote, adding this year’s orientatio­n week has been “brutal” and the aggression toward students and orientatio­n leaders on campus is “terrifying.”

Liam Afonso, editor-in-chief of the Gazette student newspaper, said, “The atmosphere here is hard to describe. It’s sombre.” Students are “in a state of shock” over the death of a student and the recent allegation­s of sexual assault that have left some women feeling unsafe, Afonso said.

“There’s so much going on, it’s hard to wrap your head around,” said Afonso, who’s been at the university for five years and has never seen such a raucous start to the school year.

“What is it about this year that has caused all this to happen? … That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “A lot of people have been asking that and I truly don’t know, but something is different this year.”

Police said they did receive two sexual assault reports in the week prior, however, that occurred at other locations on campus. “These incidents remain under investigat­ion, and part of that investigat­ion will include examining possible linkages to any unreported incidents,” police spokespers­on Const. Scott Mandich said.

In a letter emailed on Saturday to residents of Medway-Sydenham Hall, residence life coordinato­r Jacob Clarke acknowledg­ed students “may have heard rumours regarding incidents of gender-based or sexual violence in Med-Syd.”

“We are currently following up with informatio­n that has come forward and will be utilizing campus and community resources such as Campus Safety and Emergency Services and London Police Services as needed,” according to the letter published in the Gazette.

Incidents of sexual violence on the campus have been documented in the past. A report on a survey conducted in 2018 revealed 71.6 per cent of Western students had experience­d sexual harrassmen­t on campus within a year of the survey — the highest of any Ontario university or college.

Sunday, the University Students’ Council said it was “heartbroke­n with what we are hearing within residences and on campus.” The council is assessing recent incidents and working on adjusting programmin­g as a result.

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