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Campus Diaries: “Everyone is labelling our year as the ‘crazy bunch’ ”

Memoirs from the weirdest university year ever

Campus Diaries: “Everyone is labelling our year as the 'crazy bunch' ”
Photo by Claudine Baltazar

Who: Santiago Rivera, 18 What: Sociology, with a specialization in criminology, first year Where: Western University Hometown: St. Catharines

The Campus Diaries

Dispatches from the weirdest university year ever
Life

Dispatches from the weirdest university year ever

I grew up with my mom and two sisters, and we’re all extremely close. I’m a proud gay student, and it was important to me to be an active representative in my high school’s leadership. I was on student council for all four years.

I was nervous about starting university—moving away from home and starting over was daunting. But Western had always been my top choice, and I was thrilled to be accepted. On the first day of Orientation Week, which we call O Week, I woke up at 6 a.m., and my mom and I drove to campus. Music was blaring, and groups of sophs—a Western term for orientation leaders—in funky outfits came out to welcome us, chanting and dancing. It’s a tradition at Western that they conceal their identities until the end of O Week. My soph was wearing cyclops glasses. My mom said, “This feels like the set of a movie.”

I live in the Medway-Sydenham residence, but off-campus is where the partying happens. During homecoming, the sophs knocked on our doors at 8 a.m. and got us revved up for the day ahead. I was tired and hungover, but I went along with it. That night, we went off campus. Cops were everywhere. Drunk people were crowdsurfing and climbing poles. One girl fell to the ground. Everyone was crowding around and asking if she was okay. I thought, Oh my god, the partying here is totally out of control.

Everyone is labelling our year as the “crazy bunch” and saying that we’re going wild. And we are. But you could see it coming, because we were all stuck at home for such a long time.

One night, someone pulled the fire alarm at Medway and an ambulance showed up. We saw a woman being carried out unconscious on a stretcher. We all assumed she drank too much and passed out. But then we heard rumours about women being drugged and sexually assaulted. We didn’t know the details—we still don’t—but we were scared. Our don and our soph, who by then had removed her costume and introduced herself to us, called a floor meeting to check in on us and see how we were coping. They were supportive and gave us safety tips, like travelling in groups of twos and threes. The sophs went through a lot, because they had to deal with things they weren’t trained to handle. They weren’t trained to be sexual assault first-responders, but they were the ones on the front lines.

Western students organized a walkout against gender-based violence in mid-September. There were blue and teal shirts everywhere. I teared up during the survivors’ speeches—it felt like real change was possible.

I had a positive outlook coming into this year. We’ve already missed so many milestones—graduation, prom—so I thought, Let’s make this the best year it can be. It comes down to having good people around you and checking in on one another. Despite everything that’s happened, I feel free to be myself. I’m on a path of self-discovery, and I’m the happiest I’ve been in a very long time.

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This story appears in the February 2022 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe for just $24.99 a year, click here.

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