In Oct. 2018, disaster hit the University of Utah campus when Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old student-athlete, was shot and killed on campus by her ex-boyfriend.
Before her untimely death, McCluskey went the police several times in protection from Rowland who, unknown to her, was a 37-year-old parolee. The correct protocol and precautions were not taken on the University of Utah campus which ultimately lead to McCluskey’s death.
For Brooklyn Whitney, a senior majoring in strategic communication the story of McCluskey hit home.
“I have personal experience with being scared and uncomfortable on campus. And I have heard the same thing from lots of my friends,” said Whitney.
No tragedy like McCluskey’s has occured on SUU campus yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t safety issues on campus that need to be addressed.
“Campus safety is a big deal and something that a lot of universities need to work on because there are lots of holes. I don’t think it is seen as much of a priority as it should be,” said Whitney.
Due to McCluskey’s story, Whitney based her Shark Tank competition proposal last semester on improving campus safety.
Whitney proposed small-scale ideas to help make campus safer for students. One of her ideas included installing more light poles around campus.
“There is not a lot of actual sidewalk lighting except for the Founder Hall dorms,” said Whitney. “Once you start to get out to the PE building or even the engineering building parking lot, upper campus and the football field, there is hardly any lighting. Other than the street light, if I was walking on the sidewalk it would be pretty much dark.”
Josh Nielson, Interim Police Chief for SUU police department, stated that parking lots are one of the common areas for incidents to take place. This proves that it is vital to properly light the parking lots.
Another crucial part of Whitney’s initiative includes installing security cameras on campus. If a student were to look around campus, they would notice there are very few security cameras. Cameras allow students to feel safe and could be used as evidence for the police if any incident occurs.
“I think [security cameras] will help students feel more comfortable coming forward. I think they will be more likely to come forward with that because they will have proof that is actually happened,” said Whitney.
Chief Nielson stated there are approximately 400-450 incidents reported to campus police each year. According to the Monthly Crime Report provided on the SUU website, there were over 25 reported incidents in December 2018 alone. The reported incidents include everything from burglary to sexual harassment.
The most common incidents reported are parking lot accidents and stalking/sexual harassment cases. The installation of security cameras in parking lots could potentially help the police officers respond quickly to future reported incidents.
The SUU police department understands that campus security is a constant process they need to work on, but there are more changes that need to happen to make campus safe.
“I think there is always room for improvement,” said Nielson. “We have two officers that we are sending to Utah Post. One because another officer is getting transferred and the second because we received funding to hire on another police officer… which is awesome because that extra officer will add extra coverage and they can also help with all the events that we do.”
Campus security is not only a concern for students and police officers at SUU. Jani Iwamoto, Senate Assistant Minority Whip, is currently sponsoring a bill to strengthen campus security. The Utah bill will help “strengthen campus safety when it comes to stalking, sexual assault and relationship violence.”
The bill would require colleges to “develop and publish online plans detailing resources available at the school and in the surrounding communities, steps administrators take to keep reports confidential and guidance on how and where to report off campus assaults.” It would help build on any already established program. Thankfully, SUU has Title lX. Title lX is an office where students can report any kind of abuse or assault.
Even though SUU is being semi-proactive when it comes to campus safety, they need to continue to make improvements to make sure all SUU students feel safe at all times.
“Any improvement is a good improvement and I think students being able to feel comfortable on campus is very important,” said Whitney. “I don’t want to have to go to the library late at night because I don’t want to have to walk to my car in the dark alone because there is no lights. I know a lot of students don’t have access to computers and so the fact they there are having to put their education on a back burner because they don’t feel safe on campus is ridiculous.”
To keep SUU campus from experiencing a story like McCluskey’s, SUU needs to look at campus security from a student’s perspective and make SUU not only a place to receive an education, but a place where students can feel comfortable and safe.
Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photo Courtesy: Christopher Dimond