What love looks like—and what it does not

A new working group commissioned by President Ruth Watkins will focus on raising awareness and sparking conversations about healthy relationships—and how to recognize and respond to problems, such as domestic and interpersonal violence.

“I am tasking this group to develop a plan to implement educational opportunities to broadly benefit University of Utah students, staff and faculty,” Watkins said in her charge to members of the group, which includes faculty and students from across campus and from the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

The group held its first meeting in mid-January. It is looking at campus-wide initiatives that may include workshops, speakers, awareness campaigns, training, etc. The group also will look at programs offered by other institutions as well as opportunities to collaborate with organizations that promote healthy relationships.

“We hope to raise the ‘relationship IQ’ of our campus community,” said Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons, co-chair and a doctoral student in the College of Social Work. “I think there is never a bad time to learn about healthy relationship dynamics, whether that’s in a romantic relationship, between peers, colleagues, at work, etc.

“Awareness is just the first step, too,” Gonzalez-Pons said. “Once we know what healthy relationships should look like, how do we promote that in the context of technology, of power differentials and cultural differences?”

Gonzalez-Pons said she wanted to get involved in the project for personal and professional reasons. Many of her friends have been involved in unhealthy relationships that turned violent in different ways—from physical to psychological and financial abuse.

“Even from a bystander position, it’s had a great impact on me,” said Gonzalez-Pons, who worked as a rape crisis advocate and with survivors of intimate partner violence before moving to Utah from Texas.

The working group plans to conduct a campus-wide survey in the coming weeks to assess a broad understanding of healthy and unhealthy relationships. It also is looking at bringing in a national-level guest speaker and hosting trainings with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition on signs of an unhealthy relationship and how to intervene.

The working group is an extension of other efforts to enhance safety at the U since the tragic murder of Lauren McCluskey last fall. McCluskey, an outstanding student and track athlete, was killed on Oct. 22, 2018, by a man she met off campus and with whom she had a brief relationship.

The U has completed or is in the process of implementing 30 recommendations made by an independent team that reviewed the U’s interactions with McCluskey in the weeks before she died.

Watkins also has reconvened the Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety to look for more general actions that could improve safety. The task force is looking at training practices; physical security; an ongoing organizational structure for safety-related issues; campus policies and best practices; and staffing and internal communication.

The Campus Safety Task Force is expected to make new recommendations by April so they can be considered in the university’s budget proposal.