Campus safety an issue across country


It’s 10 a.m. on Aug. 23, not a time most people feel vulnerable to sexual assault, but there are always exceptions.

If you were reading your Sheridan email over the summer, you would have received a message from Michael Burjaw, director of security at Sheridan, informing you of an incident of attempted sexual assault. If this isn’t your first year at Sheridan, you may remember a similar email from an incident that happened Feb. 13.

Both incidents occurred in the wooded area behind residence, and Sheridan’s security team will be quick to tell you that the woods aren’t technically on campus. Their obligation to email students is determined by the incident’s proximity to Sheridan soil.

On Sept. 18, the Sheridan Sun began to receive tips that another incident had occurred on the previous Friday night. Students who lived in residence were buzzing about waking up to ambulance lights.

Later that Wednesday, a message was sent to all Sheridan inboxes advising safety, outlining the resources our campus has in place and asking for help to identify the suspects from the Aug. 23 attack. While it has turned out there has been no September attack, the fact remains: students are scared.

Students frequent the woods because it’s a handy short cut for people who live in or near the apartment buildings on the southwest side of the college.

However, the trails have earned a reputation as being a breeding ground for attempted sexual assault. Savvier students have referred to the trails as the “rape woods” for a number of years.

The Student Union offers a SafeWalk program, but it typically doesn’t begin until the end of September.

In the email sent on Wednesday by security, it was made clear that if needed, someone from security would escort you anywhere – including the wooded area. Additionally, SafeWalk will now be escorting people through the woods.

In what some have been calling an “epidemic” of sexual assaults at post-secondary institutions, Sheridan is hardly alone. College and university campuses all over Ontario have been dealing with this exact problem, and the likelihood of incidents skyrocket during the first two weeks of school amid frosh week celebrations.

It’s during these first few weeks that we need SafeWalk the most.

Why are sexual assaults and sexual violence so prevalent on campuses? Is it the unrestricted, zero-consequence party culture? Is it a systematic failure on behalf of the school itself? Is employing the buddy system and carrying a can of bear mace the solution?

We can’t criticize security too harshly. Protecting a large campus full of commuting students is no easy feat and what happens in the “rape woods” is not their responsibility.

On the other hand, taking the hush-hush approach to this recent incident on campus is counterproductive and speaks volumes about priorities. Is this about public safety or public relations?

These incidents cast a big shadow over this community that prides itself on being safe.

These crimes could be a stain on the images of both Oakville and Sheridan College, but the students still have a right to know.

If security can only accept some of the responsibility for the safety of the woods, this might be a problem for the town of Oakville to solve. If there are surveillance cameras all over the college, why can’t the municipal government place cameras in the woods too?

It’s a small price to pay for the privilege to learn and walk outside at night with peace of mind.

It’s up to these institutions we fund to decide where to put their focus and our dollars: Will it be public safety or public relations?

Renée Lalonde is a second-year Print Journalism student.


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