TW: This article addresses difficult, but important, topics such as sexual assault, gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and more. Please read with caution and reach out to any of the resources below if you are in need of support.
I am disheartened to address the recents events that occurred on our believed-to-be “safe campus”. For those unaware, there was an incident in one of Western’s residence buildings where up to 30 students were drugged, sexually assaulted, and hospitalized.
This is not something I ever hoped to write, but it is something that must be addressed. We have all been warned, time and time again, that campus culture is synonymous with protecting your drink - don’t give your drink to a stranger, always watch it, never put it down.
But there comes a time when we have to start questioning why the onus is on women to be preventative rather than simply teaching perpetrators not to commit assault.
One of the many signs featured at Western’s SGBV Walkout on September 17th, representing the lack of education surrounding SGBV on campus (@westernusc via Instagram)
OneLove Western is an organization on campus founded by Keenan Clarke and Liam Cronin, and part of the greater OneLove organization at large. Together, OneLove and its accompanying campus groups, are on a mission to make healthy relationships possible, sharing resources amongst communities.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Rachiele, President of OneLove Western and Kaitlyn Fagin, OneLove Western’s Vice-President of Research and Inclusion, to ask them about OneLove’s mission and why these organizations are so important, especially in dire times such as these:
Can you explain a little bit about OneLove and what it’s about?
Alex: OneLove Western is an organization on campus that seeks to educate people on gender-based violence (GBV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) and provide resources as we see fit. We’re the middle point for students where we can connect them to resources but we are not the resources itself. Rather, we focus on educating. Western is the worst school in Canada for GBV/IPV, so we believe it is especially important to have it at our school.
Why did you join OneLove? Why is it important to you?
Alex: I joined OneLove because I recognize that campus is not a safe space for everyone. It has gotten worse with recent events, but I don’t think women ever felt truthfully safe before, at least from what I’ve experienced myself. I also understood how important it was to highlight women’s voices in issues such as GBV.
Kaitlyn: I joined OneLove because I wanted to make a difference on campus using an equitable, diverse, and inclusive lens, hence my position. I also wanted to give students a voice for those unable to voice themselves. With my own experiences, I wanted to educate others and provide the resources that might be difficult to access if you don’t know the right avenues to take. I also joined because I am passionate about changing the culture on campus, and making Western free of GBV.
Why do you think organizations such as OneLove are important on campus?
Alex: In Ontario, Western has the worst report of sexual/gender-based violence and this is something that any woman who enters Western experiences firsthand, whether it be a comment or worse. I don’t know any women who haven’t experienced either comments, or worse. The issues of GBV/IPV are just so important within themselves.
How do you think students can apply the lessons learned from OneLove in their everyday lives?
Alex: OneLove Western is a source of healthy relationship education for students at Western. We created an inclusive environment and accepting community that discusses healthy relationships and develops that information on campus at large. I would say the main takeaway would probably be our ten signs of a healthy relationship: comfortable pace, honesty, trust, independence, respect, equality, kindness, fun, healthy conflict, and taking responsibility. Overall, we just educate young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships, empowering them to recognize the signs of abuse and teaching them how to love better and that is the greatest takeaway that students can take from OneLove.
Kaitlyn: I think that students can learn a lot of lessons from OneLove. I think that when you’re coming to university, sadly the last thing you are going to research is the gender-based violence statistics. Personally, even as a survivor coming to Western, I didn’t know that Western was the school that had the highest rates of gender-based violence. I think students can take the lessons of being cautious, take the resources that we give to them, and know that they are there if they ever need them or if a friend ever needs them. I think that OneLove is a great resource and an educational tool and also a preventative tool so that women know what to look out for. I think that they can take away just education surrounding gender based violence, and even what it is, what sexual coercion is, what the definitions are that we post. I think sometimes survivors don’t even know they are survivors because there’s a lack of education surrounding gender-based violence issues.
Do you believe teaching females safety precautions is enough to help combat gender-based violence/intimate partner violence?
Kaitlyn: I definitely think that teaching females safety precautions is enough to combat gender-based violence and intimate partner violence to a certain extent. I don’t think it can eliminate those things unfortunately because abusers are abusers and what happens to victims is not their fault. And sometimes that goes beyond teaching females safety precautions. But i do think that by teaching women preventative measures surrounding GBV/IPV, they’re able to spot out the signs quicker than they might have been able to before, so they’ll be able to leave faster or be able to have the resources and tools to leave and also be able to leave situations where GBV is occurring and step in where needed for their peers as well.
Alex: I very strongly believe that teaching females safety precautions is not enough to help combat gender-based and intimate partner violence. We need to be educating everyone about this topic because education is what is going to make change. Perpetrators need to understand why what they are doing is wrong and need to be taught that there will be very, very severe consequences when something like that is done. I believe teaching females safety precautions is putting the ownership back onto the survivor when in reality we just need to do better as a community overall.
Given the recent events that have taken place, do you have any resources or advice for students/victims who are struggling right now?
Kaitlyn: My advice for the victims and students that are struggling right now to be on campus is to seek out a friend, seek out a peer - there are resources on campus for you. There are also resources off of campus . Places like Anova will provide support to victims and survivors. My advice honestly is to stick together - we can get through this. It’s a really hard time right now for survivors from the past weekend's events and also long-standing survivors as well. But I think together, as a campus community, we can work towards combating GBV and making the campus a safe space for everybody and a space that everybody feels that they can be in without being subjected to GBV.
Alex: Given what’s happened recently, I would definitely say to find resources, I would direct you to our social media. We have a OneLove resources package that we have published recently and this is all of the community and campus resources that are readily available for all survivors. Other than that, I would just say that you are loved. You matter. What happened to you is not your fault. Things will get better. And I am sending you all my love, whether I know you or not.
“Love Letters to Survivors” from Western’s SGBV Walkout where students were able to show support to survivors through handwritten messages (@westernusc via Instagram)
While it is important for anyone to know proper safety precautions, it is equally-important that we educate people on what consent looks like, what a toxic relationship may look like, warning signs, etc. We cannot put the responsibility in the sole hands of the survivor because this is not their fault, nor will it ever be. As a community, we must do better. We must educate to prevent these terrible occurrences, rather than trying to heal the repercussions after acts of violence have already been committed. It is more important now than ever before to make sure that we amplify our voices and make ourselves heard as we demand change.
In partnership with the Sexual and Gender Based Violence Walkout organizers, OneLove Western has proposed 5 Calls to Action:
“Implementation of REES: A simple, secure online platform for reporting sexual violence, tailored to the unique setting of post-secondary institutions;
Immediate transparency and accountability on how the University are dealing with their current allegations and how they are or not are not supporting those survivors;
Mandatory sexual assault and gender-based violence education delivered by the University in partnership with a third-party organization to all students, staff, and faculty;
Acknowledge that the Gender-Based and Sexual Violence Policy is inadequate with immediate action to amend the policy;
Encourage all groups on campus to amplify, empower survivors, and what they need to heal”
(courtesy of: @alex.rachiele via Instagram)
OneLove can be found at @onelovewestern on Instagram, or on their website, www.joinonelove.org. Survivors, victims, or anyone struggling right now can find a number of resources there, including the resource package previously-mentioned by Alex. Additionally, there are a number of resources below, both on and off-campus, if you are struggling or know someone struggling.
We are all here for you in these hard times and we will always support you.
All my love,
Counselling on campus: https://www.uwo.ca/health/psych/index.html
Disclosures of Gender-Based and Sexual Violence at Western as well as mental health support on campus: https://www.uwo/health/student_support/survivor_support/disclose.html
Reporting incidents of Gender-Based/Sexual Violence to a dedicated GBSV case manager: firstname.lastname@example.org for email/ 519-661-3568 by phone
London Community-Based Support: Anova (@AnovaFuture on Instagram/ 519-642-3000 for a 24/7 Crisis support hotline/ website - anovafuture.org )
Free Legal Counselling for Survivors of Sexual Assault: (@officialspectrumuwo on Instagram - link with all information is in bio)
Many more resources can be found through the link in the bio of @boostherca, on Instagram, under “Crisis & Harassment & Sexual Assault Support Resources”