Response to UnsafeU petition

Editor’s note: Dan Reed, senior vice president of Academic Affairs, and Lori McDonald, vice president for Student Affairs, met with representatives of the UnsafeU student group on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, to discuss recommendations in its petition.

A response to the petition was shared with the group’s representatives and is being shared here in the interest of transparency. 

Nov. 25, 2019

To: UnsafeU Student Group

(Represented by Devon Cantwell, Cody Carlos Craig, Rebecca Hardenbrook, Brooke Martin and Ben Hubbard)

From: Dan Reed, senior vice president of Academic Affairs, and Lori McDonald, vice president for Student Affairs

Re: Update on work in progress

We appreciate the time and careful thought you put into the issues raised in your petition. We share your goals for making impactful and sustainable improvements in campus safety at the University of Utah and hope you will continue this dialogue and join with us in working to achieve meaningful change.

We agree with you that the U can become a national leader in developing and sharing best safety practices. We recognize that campus safety requires an ongoing investment in attention, resources, and institutional support. We also recognize that the highest potential for achieving our goal of creating a culture of safety at the U requires ongoing engagement of all stakeholders—most important of all, the engagement of our students. Your voice matters. Students experience and see things that we do not and we are better for your partnership on these vital matters.

With that in mind, we again thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention and engaging in a collaborative process of enhancing safety at the U. You’ve brought forth a number of good ideas that we would like to explore and, as feasible, implement.

We will be looking to our new chief safety officer and new police chief to give us more insights and guidance on improving campus safety and hope you will join with them in that effort.

We’d like to respond in general and then address specific issues raised in your petition.

Culture and Trust

What we hope to do through ongoing dialogue is better understand your concerns, what you are trying to achieve and your ultimate goals, and how we can work together to make them happen when possible.

As you note, our university has work to do to build a culture of safety and restore trust on this campus. Building a culture of safety and trust is neither a quick transformation nor an easy one. It requires a solid foundation of personnel, policies, and physical infrastructures. We need the right people, comprehensive policies and the physical infrastructures in place to ensure we are providing the safest environment possible.

We recognize that students want to be heard. We want to assure students that we are listening and that we welcome their active engagement in shaping our campus safety efforts. All of us want to hear from and work with our students. We also appreciate ASUU’s efforts to lead on safety and to give students an opportunity to have their voices heard. We look forward to learning more from the survey ASUU is currently conducting about students’ perspectives on how to effectively address safety.

While students have been involved at the highest levels of our campus safety work—from the Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety to the October is SafeU Month Working Group to search committees for the new police chief and new chief safety officer—we welcome suggestions, such as those made in your petition, for how to increase participation.

We appreciate the many students who have requested individual and small group meetings—among them, your group—to learn more, share concerns, and offer ideas for improving campus safety.

These have been very productive meetings. We have acted on many student recommendations received in one forum or another, from clustering evening classes to enhancing evening transportation options and making it easier for students to access the SafeU website by adding a tile to CIS. It is worth noting that students led the creation of the section of the SafeU website dedicated to sexual assault prevention and awareness. As new ideas come forward, such as those raised in your petition, we will continue to consider and implement those that are feasible and impactful in our ongoing commitment to improvement.

Since Lauren McCluskey’s murder, President Ruth Watkins and other campus administrators have moved swiftly to understand what happened, to learn from it and to make our campus safer.

The university has acted on all 30 recommendations that emerged from the independent review team’s analysis of its response in Lauren’s case. Many action items are completed and/or ongoing; two items—national accreditation of the U’s Department of Public Safety and a new location for the department—have been initiated.

An extensive set of policies, procedures, and trainings have been put in place at the Department of Public Safety to ensure we are following best practices and responding in a timely manner. More than 60 percent of the employees of the Department of Public Safety are new hires and many have come from surrounding law enforcement agencies, bringing with them years of experience. New hires include individuals with specific expertise in interpersonal violence, including a victim-survivor advocate. Officers have received Lethality Assessment Protocol training and trauma-informed interviewing training—and will continue to receive regular training in these areas.

Department personnel have initiated open dialogues across campus, with students, faculty, staff, and administrators with the goal of listening, learning, sharing information, and beginning to restore trust. In parallel with one of your requests, the department has added representatives of student groups as sitting members of its staff promotion interview boards and plans to include student representatives in other processes.

Some other actions of note: The university also is investing nearly $6 million in other safety improvements over the next several years, as recommended by the Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety and individual campus entities.

For the second year, the university has engaged with the One Love Foundation to provide healthy relationship training and awareness to our campus.

The university has just received a grant from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women to engage in a Coordinated Community Response project that will develop better coordination of services and comprehensive prevention strategies. We are delighted to have the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition and other community entities join us as partners in this endeavor. We also are providing seed grant funding to researchers on campus to stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations on intimate partner violence.

This is a work in progress, one that must be ongoing. We want to be very clear that safety needs to be a priority and a responsibility of our entire campus community. A primary purpose of October is SafeU Month, which just concluded, was to emphasize that point within every entity on campus through awareness and training. One of the tools for continuing that work is the SafeU website, which brings together and raises awareness of campus-wide resources.

We acknowledge our ethical and moral responsibility for the safety of our students and other members of our campus community. We are working to make our commitment to change known. At the same time, we want to listen, receive feedback and continue to act on new ideas and suggestions, specifically those made by students such as you.

Campus safety is an ongoing process that will continue to be a focus for innovation, research, and improvement now and into the future.

Now, we’d like to respond to the recommendations in your petition.

ACCOUNTABILITY

1. Establish a permanent student oversight board for campus safety which can hold hearings, investigate patterns of misconduct and independently review campus safety initiatives.

Response: A campus safety oversight board will be implemented—and will include students as well as staff and faculty—under the direction of the chief safety officer. We will rely on the expertise of this new leader to guide how this board is structured and how it functions.

It is worth noting that the university currently has governance structures in place that include students. For example, students are part of the Student Behavior Committee and the Discrimination and Harassment Committee (overseen by the Office of Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Title IX) and must be represented for a quorum to be met. The entire staff of the Office of the Dean of Students works to assist with policy interpretation, make appropriate referrals, walk students through processes, and can also convey student concerns anonymously to colleges and departments, etc.

2. Create a student ombudsman office similar to that for faculty which can advise students who experience institutional grievances.

Response: We will work to better communicate with students about the resources and personnel specifically available to them.

There are currently several ombuds staff at the U, some of whom serve students. The Office of the Ombudsman within University of Utah Health Sciences serves faculty and trainees. The ombudsman within Academic Affairs is available to assist staff, faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and, in some situations, students—such as situations involving faculty or supervisors. In addition, students may work with the Office of the Dean of Students to resolve institutional/conflict issues. (See above.)

3Establish a student advisory board that will facilitate reviews of the SafeU website and the chief security officer.

Response: Once in place, the new chief safety officer and the office’s staff will take on oversight of the SafeU website and look at how to incorporate and ensure student input continues to help shape it.

Students currently provide input and suggestions for additions and changes to the SafeU website and we welcome feedback. Students also are invited to submit and/or discuss ideas at any time with any member of the administration or safety task force or any other entity focused on campus safety.

 

In line with your suggestion, President Watkins recently met with a student senator who proposed a student advisory committee—not limited to safety, but which may address this issue—to meet with and advise her on student interests and concerns. Ideally, this committee will include a cross-section of students and will include a presidential intern serving as a liaison. The president’s office plans to implement this proposal in the coming semester.

There are student representatives on the search committees for the new chief security officer and chief of police.

4UPD must respond to student reports with an appropriate sense of urgency. Any student reporting sexual violence, assault or harassment must have an initial confirmed contact within 12 hours at any time of day.

Response: We will look to the new chief safety officer and police chief to examine whether requiring a standard response time of 12 hours, as describe in the petition, is possible.

Currently, the University of Utah Department of Public Safety responds immediately in emergency, time-sensitive situations, including those involving sexual violence, assault or harassment, any time of day or night. In cases that involve intimate partner/interpersonal violence, the department’s victim-survivor advocate is available and on-call 24/7.

The department gives high-priority status to all cases involving instances of sexual violence, assault or harassment—including reports, for example, of past incidents. These cases receive collective attention from department personnel and are responded to on a high-priority basis—often sooner than 12 hours.

Since last year, the department has followed a protocol requiring an assigned investigator to respond within 24 hours to all other types of victim complaints, such as property theft. At a minimum, this requires the investigator to contact the victim to let the person know she or he has been assigned to the case.

The department tracks and keeps logs on its case responses to ensure investigators and officers are following these protocols. These are audited on a monthly basis.

All investigators have received trainings on Lethality Assessment Protocol and trauma-informed interviewing techniques. These trainings are ongoing.

In addition, as part of a new grant from the Office on Violence Against Women, university police and other campus entities will have access to community partners with expertise in best practice responses.

5. UPD must maintain a zero tolerance policy for any officers who repeatedly fail to take effective action.

Response: Appropriate action will be taken when officers do not comply with policy, procedures, protocols, and practices.

The Department of Public Safety is giving all officers training and support that will enable them to do their jobs well. It has made clear there is an expectation of accountability and high performance. The detective sergeant runs audits on all cases monthly to see that expectations are being met. This includes a face-to-face meeting with investigators, where they are held accountable to see that they are meeting expectations.

TRANSPARENCY

6. Develop a SafeU certification program for faculty, staff, and UPD officers to complete. This program will give students a visible way to telling who has been trained on: 1. Recognizing and dealing with interpersonal violence; 2. Knowing campus resources to direct [students to]; and 3. How to interact with student that have been affected by interpersonal/domestic violence.

Response: This request will be shared with the new chief safety officer and chief of police and we will rely on their expertise to explore this idea.

At present, certain positions on campus require different types of training and individual entities at the University of Utah have their own mechanisms for tracking training completed by employees. External organizations that provide training to our campus employees also have certification programs.

7. Release an OEO and Title IX grey paper that discusses the inconsistencies and gaps in Title IX advocacy to the general public.

Response: It is our understanding based on our initial meeting that UnsafeU representatives are working on this grey paper and plan to share it with us. We have not received it as yet, but welcome perspectives on our Title IX advocacy.

8A regularly updated safety dashboard that aggregates crime statistics, OEO reporting statistics and other safety metrics.

Response: This is a great idea and we are working to fulfill the request to create a dashboard that would be located on the SafeU website and make crime and reporting data more easily accessible.

We have held an initial meeting and engaged in conversations with appropriate parties, including the Office of Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Title IX, Health Sciences, the Department of Public Safety and Student Affairs and are working to gather this data in a more visible and convenient location.

Currently, the Department of Public Safety publishes a daily crime log accessible on its website. In addition, it issues the Annual Safety Report that provide crime statistics in federally mandated categories under the Clery Act.

Campus crime data also is available at https://crimereports.com.

At our initial meeting, your group offered to share examples of similar dashboards and we invite you to share information you think would be helpful.

RESOURCES

9. A reorganization of the Center for Student Wellness which includes the following:

    1. Graduate student-specific advocates and resources
    2. Relocation of services to a centralized and secure location
    3. Allocation of a minimum of $300,000 of the administrative budget to the Center for Student Wellness
    4. Restoring the Women’s Enrollment Initiative
    5. Increasing financial support to the University Police Department to fund increased coordination, additional training and a new location
    6. Financially incentivize individuals and departments to complete the SafeU certificate training through Vice President Reeds’ office

All of these resources must not come from the areas of the budget that would increase cost to students through fees, tuition or otherwise.

Response A: We will encourage the Center for Student Wellness to consider this request. Currently, all advocates and graduate interns within the Center for Student Wellness are trained to work with any individual barriers for any client regardless of student status, whether faculty or staff. The primary job of advocates and interns is to address any barriers. For graduate students, issues may change based on issue, college, etc. The Center for Student Wellness is working to provide more specific trainings and workshops for graduate students and to promote more awareness among graduate students of their services.

Response B: The Center for Student Wellness currently has two locations on campus and, in line with your proposal, has expressed interest in consolidating its operations. Possibilities for consolidation are being reviewed. The location for the victim-survivor advocates has a private and confidential meeting room where staff can meet with clients and the proximity to the University Counseling Center has been beneficial for referrals.

Response C: The U values and prioritizes the Center for Student Wellness and recognizes it is a growing office. We will continue to review and discuss its funding needs to ensure it has the resources it needs.  Its current budget is just over $500,000; it was set up with its own operating budget in July 2018. It currently has six full-time staff and is adding two more—a full-time health educator and a support person. The office also has added two part-time graduate students and 15 undergraduate interns. University administration will continue to work closely with the Center for Student Wellness to evaluate how to support its growth.

Response D: The Women’s Enrollment Initiative was created in 2014 to promote the recruitment, retention, and graduation of more women students. By design, this was a temporary, though focused, attempt to integrate existing programs with additional efforts such as events and promotion of more supportive physical spaces throughout campus.

Over the five years of its existence, organizers also established campus and community partnerships to provide increased mentorship, sponsorship, and internships for women students and developed a website to help students find support resources. Student success and enrollment metrics among women did indeed increase over this period.

The formal Women’s Enrollment Initiative program ended on June 1, 2019, but the work of supporting women students continues through the efforts of individuals, teams and departments across campus, including the ongoing efforts of the Women’s Resource Center, where the Women’s Enrollment Initiative was housed. The staff members and operating budget of the Women’s Enrollment Initiative were transferred back to Enrollment Management, and the Division of Student Affairs added a position to the Women’s Resource Center to focus on the retention of women students.

Response E: We agree with you that providing adequate resources to the Department of Public Safety must be a priority. The University of Utah Department of Public Safety has received significant increases in funding to hire new personnel, including a detective who specializes in interpersonal violence and a victim-survivor advocate. It also has invested in new trainings for officers, including the Lethality Assessment Protocol, trauma-informed training, etc., as recommended by the independent review team.

The university has completed a space and work-use study for a new location and is in the process of finding a new, more centralized location for the department.

The department has received increased funding to hire more personnel and the pay scale for officers has been adjusted to help the department attract, hire, and retain highly qualified personnel. Again, we agree that personnel and training must be an ongoing priority.

Response F: This recommendation will be shared with the new chief safety officer (see above).