Monday, September 20, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Monday!
Today’s apparently a day to celebrate Punch, Pepperoni, and Peace – although it also marks the beginning of “International Week of Happiness at Work” (good luck with that). Yes, I realize the UN’s official site says the International Day of Peace is actually tomorrow – do you want to fight about it?
In Canada, it’s election day 2021 today. An election that nobody really thinks we needed, and that even Justin Trudeau is likely regretting that he called. Unlike previous elections, some close ridings may have to wait 5 days or more to count all the mail-in ballots, so we’ll see whether we actually know the outcome by tomorrow morning. And whether there’s really enough oxygen left this week to write about anything else…
Warzone in the West
Politicians in Canada’s western provinces finally realized last week that their relaxed health precautions this summer had triggered a healthcare disaster. Hospitals are rapidly becoming overwhelmed, and the frontlines of healthcare have literally become a “warzone.” Alberta has become the epicentre of the worst outbreaks in all of the Americas, and CMOH Deena Hinshaw confessed that the “open for summer” plan was tragically misguided. The premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan joined many others by announcing (too late) a return to mask mandates and new vaccine passports (often by other names). Alberta’s passport system begins today, and Ontario’s on Wednesday. Early last week, 9 ABpses announced that they would be requiring proof of vaccination on campus, starting anytime between now and January – but then had to pivot late Wednesday night to close their campuses temporarily in the face of the new provincial “restrictions exemption” program.
Ontario Loosens Up
On the other hand, Ontario is feeling overconfident after a summer without lifting its mask mandate, and MCU advised ONpses they could reopen classrooms without any capacity limits or distancing requirements this Fall. As I documented last Monday, quite a few institutions refused to change their plans at the last moment, and 3 university presidents emphasized the need for caution (at uWaterloo, uWindsor, and Carleton).
Whatever you call it (vaccine passport, ID, certification, proof, or even “restrictions exemption”) proof-of-vaccination programs are now in place or coming soon for most adult Canadians. This Fall, indoor dining will require proof of vax status (or negative COVID19 test results) in BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, QC, NB and NS. Gym workouts are subject to similar restrictions (although gyms are closed in AB and open in NS). CTV
Last week we saw some appalling protests by “Canadian Frontline Nurses” outside hospitals coast to coast, and violent antivax sentiment from Maxime Bernier’s PPC. Both seemed chastened into silence by pushback from hospitals, premiers, the general public and their own leaders. It remains to be seen how much impact the sudden resurgence of vaccine polarization has on the outcomes of today’s federal election…
Most students, though, are returning to CdnPSE campuses fully-vaccinated and supportive of vax mandates. After a year of solitary confinement, and with a false sense of security bolstered by the vaccine, some high-profile misbehaviour and criminal activity has sparked community outrage and protest…
No doubt every CdnPSE campus has stories it could tell this month about disorderly parties in residence or off-campus, public intoxication, and even property damage. The ones making news headlines include street parties in Kingston, Guelph, Waterloo and Victoria. (And again this weekend, Kingston police laid $24,000 in fines at a single house party.) Sadly, drunk and disorderly does not appear to be the worst of it…
Assaults at Western
Campus healthcare and counselling experts know that the first 6 weeks of Fall term are a “red zone” in which, tragically, cases of sexual assault spike every year. CdnPSEs have introduced consent and bystander education programming into orientation week activities, but much of that migrated online during the pandemic. At Western U, 4 sex assaults have been formally reported in campus residences this month. (While police made one arrest, the man was released without charges.) London Police are also trying to investigate “thousands” of social media allegations that as many as 30 female students were drugged and sexually assaulted at Western’s Medway-Sydenham Hall residence last weekend. (Although Police and the university say that no-one has come forward to confirm the incidents, the “serious and disturbing allegations” have prompted Police to investigate anyway. At this point, the 4 other incidents do not seem to be related.) The most detailed and disturbing accounts, gathered by the London Free Press and student journalists at The Western Gazette, describe a “terrifying” O-week that “ended in violence and trauma.” (Reader discretion is advised.) Ambulances and fire trucks responded to a false fire alarm at Med-Syd Hall the night of Sep 10, and multiple female students reported being “roofied” or seeing girls passed out. (On average, about 5% of sexual assaults are reported in Canada; if 3 official complaints were lodged, that suggests as many as 60 assaults might have occurred.) Pandemic protocols certainly aggravated this year’s situation: student “sophs” were apparently not present in residences this year, and some claim it was far too easy to skip or ignore the online consent training videos. Western Gazette
The same night as the incidents at Med-Syd Hall, 18-year-old Gabriel Neil, an incoming first-year kinesiology student at Western, was killed in a parking lot assault just off campus. 21-year-old Aliyan Ahmed has been charged with manslaughter, and released on bail, while a Canada-wide arrest warrant has also been issued for 19-year-old Haroun Raselma. London Free Press | Western Gazette
Perm State Shooting
In breaking news this morning, a student has killed at least 6 and wounded 24 in a shooting spree at Russia’s Perm State U, about 1,300 km east of Moscow. Student barricaded classroom doors and jumped from second-storey windows. The gunman was apprehended and is being treated in hospital. Washington Post
Last Monday, Western president Alan Shepard assured the campus community that the University was “working around the clock” to gather facts about the disturbing social media reports, and was working to support students and ensure they feel safe. Last Thursday, he announced a new student safety plan including mandatory in-person sexual violence training for all students in residence (starting today), the return of residence “sophs” to residences, the hiring of 100 “safety ambassadors,” 15 additional security guards and 4 additional special constables, the reactivation of foot patrols and upgrades to lighting and building access security. A task force on sexual violence and student safety will also be formed to address campus culture and prevention.
“We have a lot of work to do as a community. I’ve spoken with students who are hurting, and we are here to listen, and to collaborate with them to find a better way forward.” – Alan Shepard, president, Western U
Last Tuesday, Ontario premier Doug Ford voiced his “disgust” at the reports of campus sexual assaults in a tweet. (Western responded by pointing to the investigation, but lack of any information from victims or witnesses.) By Thursday, the province announced it would mandate changes to ONpse sexual violence and harassment policies (by Mar 31), to shield students from “irrelevant” questions about their sexual histories, and punishment for violation of drug and alcohol policies. “The Ontario government strongly condemns all forms of violence and believes that all students deserve to feel safe on and off campus.” London Free Press
Students Walk Out
Last Friday, roughly 12,000 students and supporters walked out of classes and gathered on UC Hill to demand even more action by the University to counter an “epidemic” of sexual violence on campus. Over several hours, sex assault survivors shared their experiences, and speakers called for mandatory consent and sexual violence training for all Western students and staff. “We’ve allowed for the worst-case scenario to unfold, and no amount of sugar-coated PR is going to fix that.” Western president Shepard repeatedly expressed his support for the walkout last week, “a difficult but important day to honour survivors, hear their stories, and hold conversations about gender-based and sexual violence.” London Free Press | Western Gazette
“Do you know what it’s like to walk past the site of the most traumatic experience of your life every day just to get to class? If your answer is no… then I don’t want to hear another word from you about safety.” – Teigan Elliott, student mentor, Western U
Cancel Frosh Week?
Western health prof Treena Orchard observes that “sexual attacks occur as regularly as the changing seasons at universities and colleges across the country,” and are particularly rampant during orientation weeks – which continue to be held, “despite decades of research that demonstrate the links between these activities and incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.” Orchard’s research identified the cultural issues on campus years ago, and a COU survey found a “staggering” 71% of Western students reported being sexually harassed, particularly during O-week. She recommends that institutions cancel or radically restructure o-weeks, include mandatory gender-based training, impose year-round bans on alcohol, and create formal advisor positions. The Conversation
“Intended to orient new students to campus life, orientation week usually morphs into a spree of substance-fuelled partying that includes sexual violence.” – Treena Orchard, health studies prof, Western U
Doubtless there are many other campuses wrestling with sexual assault reports and student protests this month. (200 Wichita State U students marched to the local police station on Friday, to protest the handling of a reported rape in a campus dorm.) At least 4 uGuelph students have complained their drinks were “spiked”, at a small on-campus gathering in August, and a house party in the city’s south end Sept 17. (No assaults or injuries were reported.) Students at Fanshawe College announced a “Take Back Our Campus” event, to be held this evening, after anonymous threats to drug and sexually assault female students at 2 campus bars surfaced online on Discord.
When I originally spotted this campaign, it didn’t occur to me – but after spending the day writing about sexual consent and assault, I feel newly uncomfortable about this slogan…
Red Means Go
U Central Missouri released several upbeat, fast-paced recruitment commercials this month encouraging students to “accelerate your future” and “go beyond the limits” at UCM. The automobile metaphors continue as UCM offers to “jump-start your career” and urges students to “get in the fast lane. Because at UCM, red means go!” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading!
With the election dominating the news cycle today and tomorrow (if not all week), I’m going to take a break and play it by ear. You may hear more from me Wednesday…
Meanwhile, stay safe and be well!
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