By Will Linhares-Huang
Roughly 9,000 students at Western University walked out of class on Septermber 17th to protest what they call a “culture of misogyny” on campus after a series of sexual assault allegations surfaced following frosh week.
Social media reports suggested 30 or more students may have been drugged and/or assaulted in on-campus housing. Additionally Gabriel Neil, an 18-year-old first-year health science student, died of injuries sustained in an assault.
When I first heard about the tragic events, I was deeply saddened, frustrated, but most notably not that surprised. What happened at Western is unfortunately not an outlier. It’s a deep rooted, ongoing issue that’s not new or rare at all. But rather it is a part of a regularly occurring pattern of sexual violence and gender based discrimination at university. Many Western students say that it is “built into the school’s history and culture”.
It seems like every year, there is a stream of sexual assault accounts from students brave enough to come forward. Not just at universities close to home like Western, Queens, Mcgill. But also abroad in the U.S and the U.K. For me, I feel a bit desensitized now when I see the news on my phone because, sadly, it has become somewhat normalized.
It’s difficult to read about it. I worry that I don’t know what to do or say. These uncomfortable moments might make us turn away from their distress—and we momentarily disregard so that we can carry on.
However, this is a misplaced approach. This uneasiness is why it’s so important to have these assemblies. It’s pretty hard speaking right now to all of you about this topic. Hopefully I’m doing a good job of hiding it. I feel anxious talking about this even though you’re my peers, my friends, my teammates, my teachers. I don’t really know how this is landing. It’s this discomfort that makes these conversations necessary.
So, intead, we should feel with someone. As humans, but especially as boys from UCC, we need to empathize and act with compassion.
So, this weekend, when I was writing this, that’s what I tried to do: be empathetic.
I thought about my connections to the situation at Western. I have an older sister who attended Western. I tried to imagine if she was currently still studying there, and how worried I’d feel. I don’t think my family would sleep properly knowing that my sister is living in an unsafe environment like that. I think my parents would urge her to constantly text and call them, and always be with a group of friends. I think my sister and her roommate would be scared to leave their dorm. They would be afraid to go out and do the most basic things like getting their paper from a printer, taking the elevator, or going to the cafeteria at night.
These are the harsh but true realities. But my sister will never be able to have the same experience at university that I will have if we went to the same school. Not because she has access to different opportunities, or programs, or has different teachers. But simply because we are different genders.
This is an unfortunate but saddening truth, however, I have full confidence that all of you here today can grapple with this and empathize.