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ioanna hopper (the writer) on brescia university college\'s campus
ioanna hopper (the writer) on brescia university college\'s campus
Photo courtesy of Ioanna Hopper
Life > Academics

I Go To Canada’s Last Women’s University, But It’s Being Integrated Into A Co-Ed School

My journey with Brescia University College, the only women’s university in Canada, began back in high school when my guidance counselor pointed me towards the French for Teaching program. Intrigued, I delved into research and quickly discovered that my connection with the university went far beyond one specific program. The messages plastered across their website, social media, and prospective student flyers — “Choose to Lead” and “Be Bold” — resonated with me on a profound level. Even before officially accepting my offer two years ago, I felt like I was already a cherished part of a special community. This sense of acceptance didn’t dissipate after recruitment; in fact, it deepened within the very first week of setting foot on campus during my inaugural year of university.

In my first few days on Brescia’s three-building campus, it became abundantly clear that I had discovered more than just a university; I had found a home away from home. Brescia’s distinctiveness unfolded in the palpable sense of being welcomed and valued every time I entered any space on campus, a hallmark of the Brescia experience. With a student population of only 1,600, the intimate environment fosters a safe space where I am encouraged to step out of my comfort zone and explore various leadership opportunities such as joining the Students’ Council or becoming an orientation leader who supports the incoming class.

In addition, the smaller learning size has been pivotal in my academic success; here, I am not merely a number but a student, and more profoundly, a human being. The unwavering support from my professors is evident — they not only want me to succeed but provide me with all the resources necessary to do so. The assurance that there is always someone ready to support me in times of challenge, whether it’s my peers, professors, or other members of the Brescia faculty and staff, underscores the true sense of community at Brescia. Thriving as a student is intertwined with thriving as a young woman, thanks to the unique community that women have built over many years at Brescia.

On Sept. 21, 2023, everything took an unexpected turn. I was engrossed in a leadership class, eagerly anticipating the early start to my three-day weekend as our professor announced the cancellation of the final hour. Little did I know, the course of my academic journey was about to be reshaped. At 1:45 p.m., an email from BUC’s President with the ominous subject line “Important Update on Brescia’s Future” landed in my inbox. Initially, I assumed it might contain news about a new bursary or an exciting partnership. Reluctantly, I opened the email only to be confronted with a revelation that shook the very foundation of my Brescia experience.

The “important update” revealed that, come the end of April 2024, Brescia will fully integrate with Western University, a large public research university in the same city. In mere minutes, the certainty of my future, as well as the futures of every student within our tight-knit 1,600-student community, was thrust into uncertainty. The weight of the unknown, the realization that the school I stood in front of would cease to exist in eight short months, had a lasting impact.

It’s been around two weeks since Brescia delivered this unexpected news, and the community is gradually gaining more insight into the reason behind the merger, which some are speculating is due to the financial issues the university has experienced over the past few years. While I can begin to understand the significant financial implications that led to this merger, it doesn’t erase the poignant reality that Canada’s last all-women’s university is closing its doors after 104 years of bold, female history.

In 1919, the Ursuline Sisters founded the University, driven by their unwavering faith and commitment to social justice, community service, and the empowerment of women. Brescia’s dedication to academic excellence is reflected in its average class size of 29 students and a 14:1 student/faculty ratio. Additionally, the university offers a supportive atmosphere, fostering a sense of community among students. Like many of my peers, I resonate with the sentiment that we didn’t choose to enroll at Western; we chose Brescia.

The prospect of transitioning to an institution with an approximate 40,000-student population looms large, bringing forth daunting challenges. However, as Brescia students, we’ve been ingrained with the ethos of using our voices and standing up for our beliefs. It’s through this collective strength that our community has, and undoubtedly will, navigate and triumph over this challenging time.

Since the announcement, student groups have united, primarily through social media and the creation of a petition, to voice their opinions on how Western and Brescia should navigate the aftermath of this decision, emphasizing the importance of including student perspectives in the process. As members of this distinct community, there are key aspects of Brescia that we fervently believe should be retained on main campus. This includes the creation of safe spaces for women and non-binary individuals — individuals who specifically chose Brescia for its secure and supportive community, a quality not always prevalent on main campus. Moreover, our student body recognizes the ongoing need for specialized accommodations, especially for women with disabilities. Ensuring that these individuals can still access the resources that were once readily available is crucial.

Above all, there is a collective desire to preserve the legacy and rich history of Brescia University College. As part of the current student body, we are committed to being an integral part of this legacy, steadfastly preventing its dissolution in the process of merging with Western University.

These past few weeks have been marked by profound unease for both myself and my fellow peers since the unveiling of this announcement. While I acknowledge the finality of this decision, it doesn’t deter me from utilizing my voice and expressing concerns about my future as a post-secondary student. The impact of this decision reaches far beyond my individual experience, resonating within the hearts of countless students navigating this uncertain terrain.

If you have a moment, I encourage you to visit @savebrescia_western on Instagram for a deeper understanding of this merging and discover ways you can lend support to the student body during this challenging transition. Together, we strive to ensure that the legacy of Brescia University College endures, even in the face of unprecedented change.

Ioanna Hopper

Western '26

Ioanna Hopper is a second-year student at Brescia University College pursuing a double major in French for Teaching and Leadership Studies. Beyond academics, she serves as Brescia's Athletic Commissioner and a Soph leader in the Orientation program. Ioanna is an active member of the Western Artistic Swimming Club and oversees recreational programming at the local artistic swimming club. Outside her commitments, she enjoys reading, spending time with friends, and unwinding with TV.