A group of Brescia University College students in London, Ont., are planning a protest after it was announced the school would be merging with Western University.
Officials at Brescia, Canada’s only women’s university college, say the school will wind down its operations beginning May 2024.
The announcement was made Thursday and caused shock among faculty, staff and students, including first year political science student Alex Wild, who describes Brescia as a safe space for women.
“For first year students like me, Brescia said, ‘This is going to be a great experience for you guys, you’ll love it here for the next four years,'” she told 980 CFPL. “To find out that’s not true and that this will be my one and only year at Brescia, it’s been shocking and disheartening.”
Wild is one of the roughly 20 students who’ve come together to organize a protest against the merger. It’s set for Wednesday afternoon at the bottom of the Brescia Hill.
In addition, the group is also planning to start a letter-writing campaign and pass out petitions.
“We won’t go down without a fight. Brescia taught us to be empowered, strong women and we’re going to use those skills to fight for our school,” she said.
One of the protest attendees is Heather Kirk, the vice president of the Brescia Faculty Association, a French professor and a Brescia alumna.
“I’ll be there with them on Wednesday afternoon and I’ll have a flag and my Brescia shirt on,” she said.
Kirk told 980 CFPL she’s still processing the merge and worried about what this means for her and her colleagues’ jobs.
“Although we’ve been given promises and guarantees that full-time staff and faculty will be offered employment at Western, nothing of that is legally binding yet, so we don’t know what our offers of employment will look like,” she explained.
Kirk says she’s considered the possibility of losing her job due to the lack of openings at Western’s French department.
“They have someone who already does my job. They don’t need two of us,” she said. “I’m worried about redundancy, the quality of my professional life but also losing that really special relationship I have with my students.”
Even though she supports the protest, Kirk says she’s unsure if any action will lead to a reversal of the merge due to Brescia’s debt, a lack of alumnae donations and no possibility for recruitment for the next school year.
“I don’t know what this will bring about, but I think the visibilities and collective condemnation of this decision are so important. We talk to our students about speaking to power and this is what they’re doing,” she said. “The most positive result would be saving Brescia, (but) the most realistic consequence is getting more guarantees from Western about the safety of our students.”
Wild shares those thoughts.
“Hopefully we can come to a legacy agreement and first years like me can complete the rest of their undergrad at Brescia,” she said. “If not, then trying to create safe spaces at Western for women, trying to just do anything we can to uphold the legacy of Brescia and create that feeling even if it is at Western.”
Wild emphasized the protest will be peaceful and not targeted towards Western.
“We value and respect Western. We just want the university experience we were promised. We want that safe space, the small class sizes, the manageable campus and the opportunities for female leaders,” said Wild.
“We need transparency, truth and a very clear path forward that protects our students,” Kirk added.
The protest is scheduled for Wed. Sept. 27, 2023, from 12-4 p.m. at the bottom of the Brescia Hill located at Brescia Drive and Western Road.
Meanwhile, Western’s affiliated university college Huron University College has released a statement, saying it will not follow Brescia’s footsteps.
“I want to state, unequivocally, that Huron will not be merging or otherwise renouncing our autonomy,” said Barry Craig, Huron’s president. “We have been around for 160 years and it is my hope that we will be around for 160 more.”
Western’s other affiliated university college, King’s University College, has not issued a statement regarding Brescia’s merge with Western.
— with files from 980 CFPL’s Amy Simon
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