Students and President Angel participate in focus groups about campus safety
By Gwen Walsh
The meetings came in the wake of several alarming campus crime incidents, including the sexual assault at Clark in February. Since these focus groups, UP issued a “safety notification” about Clark police pursuing and confiscating the property of three minors after a strictly verbal, non-physical altercation initiated by Clark students, which gave rise to questions about UP policy and jurisdiction.
The safety forum was organized by former CUSC Vice President and Project Playground Community Outreach Coordinator Ali Canino, and consisted of three one-hour-long sessions with three to six students each. Angel and Canino attended all three sessions.
“Safety is something that we need to be constantly improving on,” Canino said. “And students are the ones that are going to have to wave the red flag.”
The purpose of the forum was to create an open, non-judgmental environment for students to talk candidly about their opinions, so most respondents will remain anonymous throughout this article.
One of the topics which came up throughout the session on Friday, April 13th, was the line of communication between UP, administration, the student body, and the community at large. One attendee expressed deep concern over the fact that he heard about the February assault via WBZ News before Clark issued a Timely Warning (TW). Angel responded, “the sexual assault was initially reported to the Worcester Police who subsequently notified Clark Police. In the context of their active and ongoing investigation, the Worcester Police requested that Clark hold off on notifying the campus until more information was available. We would like to have gotten this Timely Warning out earlier and in retrospect would do so.”
Angel acknowledged that the communication methods concerning safety on campus need to be fine-tuned. “We have one communication vehicle, the Timely Warning, trying to do too many different things,” he said. There are four different types of security situations which the University wants students to be aware of: immediate threats, which at this point students are notified of via email and a post on the portal; an incident with no immediate threat, the category into which Monday’s “safety notification” falls; suspicious behavior, which is reported in the police logs; and emergencies, for which the Clark Alerts system was designed. “We don’t want to use Clark Alerts for anything other than a widespread emergency situation, like an active shooter on campus. God forbid we have to use it, we want people to recognize how urgent it is.”
Members of the group said that sometimes the Timely Warnings take too long to reach students to be efficient. Angel agreed that in the past this has been the case, but that they are developing methods to shorten the delay. He said that there is a specific protocol for issuance of Timely Warnings, but this is not something that is made readily available to students.
Attendees discussed the fact that TW protocol seems different over the summer, though Residential Life and Housing (RLH) keeps some on campus housing open and Clark offers classes. There were also questions about the territory Timely Warnings cover – sometimes off-campus incidents are included and sometimes they are not. Angel did not provide clarification about how those decisions are made.
UP has been in contact with Student Council about new methods of disseminating police logs to students weekly.
Safety Escort Service (SES) is another important player in campus security, and Canino said this topic arose in each of the three sessions. “In general people seem dissatisfied with Escort,” she said, “but it’s not surprising considering their resources.” Specifically students feel that wait times for vans are too long, that staff plays favorites with their friends, and that dispatchers are not always professional. “I think sometimes taking Escort seems like a hassle so people make an unsafe decision by saying ‘fine, I’ll just walk,’” one attendee said. Escort has already responded to some concerns raised by The Scarlet in an article on March 22nd.
Bre Lembitz, who also attended the Friday session, had a convention-challenging solution to the problem of inadequate lighting on streets contingent to campus, which actually sounds feasible, as well as sensitive to the community. “What if Clark offered subsidization on porch lighting for people who live nearby?” asked Lembitz, a senior economics major. Angel suggested the idea of adding more flood lights to campus buildings and aiming them toward dark areas.
Another student suggestion was adding more card swipe stations to secure campus buildings after hours. In particular, Canino said the CHOICES office on the third floor of the University Center (UC) needs this security system in order to protect not only their cash box, but also the contraceptives that many members of the student body depend on. Other facilities mentioned were the Little Center and the Traina Center, both of which contain work spaces that students utilize late at night.
An intriguing question asked at the forum was about what University Police’s jurisdiction really is, at Clark as well as at other area colleges. Angel mentioned that Clark UP has a “strong relationship” with Worcester Police Department (WPD), but what does that mean? He said that he hears a wide range of opinions on how active Clark officers are; while some community members feel that they are too lenient, particularly with off-campus parties, others see them as heavy-handed.
Most members in the Friday group had complaints about how UP operates. A student who lives on Beaver Street said he rarely sees police presence on his street, and asked why there are not more ground officers. Angel said foot patrol makes it difficult for officers to reach emergency situations. He also explained that the UP Bike program, which won the Ureka Big Idea contest in 2011, has not gotten underway yet because the officers need special training. Attendees complained that UP’s response time is not fast enough and one student said that the dispatcher once advised her to approach a suspicious person to see what he was wearing instead of keeping her safety in mind. The general consensus was that University Police would benefit from training about professionalism, politically correct language, and diversity.
Blue light call boxes, perhaps the most visible indicator of security management on college campuses throughout the country, rarely make it to the center of the discussion about safety. In reality the boxes are not utilized very often and serve as more of a psychological safety-net. “The call boxes send the message that not only is this a neighborhood where you have to be thoughtful, but also that the institution is paying attention to security,” Angel said.
Lembitz summed it up pretty well: “it’s about responsibility on both sides.” According to Canino, this means using a wide lens when looking for ways to address issues. “We need to use a combination of university solutions and community solutions if we really want to make a difference,” she said.
It’s unclear if the administration will take up any of these suggestions, but now they certainly know how the students feel. President Angel said we can expect a letter about future plans for addressing campus safety concerns by the end of the semester.
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Changes already enacted:
-Safety notifications – A new type of email communication from University Police to students in the case of incidents that are not considered to be an immediate threat. This grew out of a meeting between former CUSC President Lisa Johnson, current President Andrew Schuschu, and Ali Canino, and Jack Foley and Police Chief Goulet. Monday’s incident falls into this category.
-Police logs – The logs now include officer patrol times and more thorough coverage.
-Extended Escort service – Escort will now accept calls until the office closes at 4:00 a.m. This means that if a student calls at 3:55 a.m. they will still receive service.
-After hours SES – Now calls to Escort after 4:00 a.m. will go to a voicemail informing callers that pressing 0 will transfer them to UP, who will provide them with an escort.
-Dean of Students Office follow-up – In the future Timely Warnings of sensitive nature, such as a sexual assault, will be followed-up with information and support from the Dean of Students Office.