INVESTING IN A SAFER CAMPUS

By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

University of Utah President David W. Pershing accepted and approved nearly $400,000 in funding for recommendations made by a task force charged with looking at campus safety.

The recommendations, presented Wednesday, June 14, 2017, to the board of trustees, call for creation of a comprehensive campus safety website, addition of new support personnel and mandatory sexual assault awareness training for all students and newly hired faculty and staff. Mandatory training is expected to be in place no later than fall 2018. Board member Cristina Ortega, who served on the task force, provided the overview of the report.

Pershing said the recommendations represent “solid first steps” and a roadmap in the U’s effort to ensure the safety and well-being of its campus community.

“Let me be clear,” Pershing said. “There is no place for violence, sexual harassment or sexual assault at the University of Utah. It is a high priority for me and all the members of my administrative team to do all we can to support those who experience trauma — in any form — and at the same time, to promote awareness of and educate campus community members about our expectations for campus culture.

“Each of us can contribute to making our campus a model of inclusion, respect and safety for everyone who visits, works and studies here,” Pershing said. “I ask you to join us in working toward that goal.”

Charge to the task force

Pershing created the task force in January 2017 and asked it to look at whether the university was doing all it could to promote campus safety. In his directive, Pershing referenced crimes occurring on campuses around the country, including hate crimes and micro aggressions following the 2016 election, and the allegation of a rape at the U in October 2016.

Pershing appointed Barb Snyder, vice president of Student Affairs, and Michele Ballantyne, associate general counsel, as co-chairs of the task force.

The president asked the task force to look at four areas specifically and to return initial recommendations in time for him to consider their inclusion in the 2017-18 budget. The areas were:

  • What kind of prevention campaign is needed to reinforce a safe campus culture?
  • Does the U have sufficient personnel to respond to incidents and follow up with victims?
  • What improvements are needed to the campus’s physical infrastructure — lighting, security cameras, facilities — to improve safety?
  • Should there be required mandatory training for students, faculty and staff related to safety issues and at what level?

Members of the task force, who represented a broad cross-section of campus and included three students, met six times during spring semester; subcommittees charged with specific areas of focus also met separately. In addition, the task force held seven listening sessions to solicit input on campus safety, and the co-chairs met with other small groups and individuals who offered input and shared their experiences.

Recommendations

The specific recommendations approved by Pershing are as follows:

  • Create a centralized, standalone comprehensive safety website with four main sections: sexual assault reporting and prevention; emergency and physical safety; campus climate/diversity; and training resources.
  • Conduct a one-year awareness campaign to promote the new website and share educational and prevention messages.
  • Require mandatory safety and prevention training for all students and newly hired faculty and staff.
  • Hire a new case manager and an additional conduct staff member in the Dean of Students Office.
  • Hire an additional victim advocate in the Center for Student Wellness.
  • Increase the Women’s Resource Center staff counselor to full-time status.
  • Increase lighting throughout campus.

“Creation of a comprehensive, centralized website on campus safety that pulls together all information, resources and support will have a lasting long-term impact on ensuring that all campus community members know what is acceptable behavior, what resources are available, how to report incidents and what training is available,” Ballantyne said. “It is our hope that requiring all students and newly hired staff and faculty to complete mandatory training will go a long way toward promoting a culture of safety on our campus.”

Next steps

Pershing asked Snyder and Ballantyne to continue as co-chairs as the task force moves to the next phase, with some work likely to underway before fall semester.

“In our review, we learned that there is a lot already being done as far as safety promotion — training, support, prevention — on campus, but there is a great need for more awareness and coordination of those activities,” Snyder said. “What we are announcing now are just the first steps in improving campus safety, and more work is undoubtedly needed to achieve our goal of being a safe campus for all. We are committed to continuing this conversation later this summer and as classes begin in the fall.”