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University of Utah students make safety recommendations to school leaders

By Kim Bojorquez, KSL | Posted - Oct 2nd, 2019 @ 9:02pm



SALT LAKE CITY — For University of Utah student body President Anna Barnes, safety means having the freedom to walk through campus and having a space to feel vulnerable.

Third-year U. students Milan Oxspring and Brock Bernstein both agreed. For them, feeling safe is to view their campus as a home or comfort zone.

For an hour and a half Wednesday, these were among the ideas shared in multiple round-table discussions between U. students and university administrators on how to improve campus safety.

The listening session, organized by the Associated Students of the University of Utah on Wednesday afternoon, comes nearly a year after U. student Lauren McCluskey was shot and killed on campus by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, leaving the community questioning the university’s level of responsibility in preventing her death.

“I think a lot of trust was lost between the students and the university,” Barnes said.

Terry Fritz, who retired from the Salt Lake City Police Department and began working as a lieutenant with the school’s police force five months ago, said having more events like a recent “coffee with a cop” gathering could increase trust between students and police.

“We’re all striving for the same thing,” he said. “We all just got to get to know each other and trust each other.”

Recently, the university announced plans to spend $1 million to implement new campus safety recommendations, like the hiring of a new chief safety officer, an on-campus ride service, having courtesy escorts available, and holding night classes at a centralized location.

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A facilitator at each round table asked students a series of questions like, “What are times that you do not feel safe on campus?” and “What is the University of Utah missing in terms of campus safety?”

Oxspring said he feels safe on campus, but understands how others might not feel safe walking through dark parking lots at night.

He said the emphasis on not allowing unfamiliar guests into a housing complex and changes to policies for overnight guests have improved in the last year.

Jason Hinojosa, a lieutenant with the U.’s department of public safety, said he left his comfortable profession to be part of solutions within the school’s police department.

“If I can’t help you, I’ll find out who can,” Hinojosa said. “We’re here to help.”

Since the university launched a free ride app in August for students traveling to different areas on campus after 6 p.m., Brooke Adams, a U. communications specialist, said up to 10 rides are completed each day and the average wait time for students is seven minutes.

Bernstein said he appreciated the conversation between students and administrators regarding campus safety, but looking at the event’s low attendance, pointed out the number of students who weren’t involved in the discussion or weren’t aware of campus resources.

“So many students don’t even know that these options are available,” he said. “I can bet you a very vast, large majority still don’t know that these resources exist.”

Gabe Martinez, U. vice president of student relations, said once results are in from a campus safety survey administered to students and campus groups, the responses will be made into a report and sent to various university administrators.

“The messages and kind of the things that we got from these students was something that we really appreciate and what we really wanted,” he said.

This week, the U., Utah State University, Utah Valley University and Weber State University released their annual crime statistics as required by the Clery Act, named after 19-year-old Jeane Clery who was attending Lehigh University before she was raped and killed in her dorm room in 1986.

McCluskey’s murder was the only murder reported among the Utah schools.

While the number of reported rapes decreased at the University of Utah, fondling and stalking incidents increased, according to the school.

The number of aggravated assaults at the U. decreased by half, and motor vehicle thefts decreased by more than 60%.

UVU, which has the largest student population in the state, reported three rapes, according to its latest fire and safety report. Out of the three, one rape occurred on campus and two occurred at non-campus locations. A burglary and a motor vehicle theft were also reported, and reports of fondling and stalking decreased from the previous year.

“We are vigilant about student safety, and work diligently to create a learning environment where people can thrive. The Clery report is an indicator we use to help create that kind of environment,” UVU spokesman Scott Trotter said in a prepared statement.

At WSU, 10 rapes were reported on campus property and nine rapes occurred in student-housing facilities, according to its annual security and fire report. Zero robberies, two burglaries and three motor vehicle thefts were reported during the year. Additionally, two aggravated assaults were reported.

At USU’s Logan campus, a total of three rapes were reported, which was lower compared to previous years, according to the school’s campus safety statistics, while burglary reports increased.

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