Demand a safe University of Utah campus for all students

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The University of Utah has shown time and time again that student safety on campus is not a true priority. It is time that we, the students at the U, take control of the situation. Please read the following letter and sign it in support of yourself and all students on campus. Be sure to join us as we walkout on Monday, details coming soon.

After enduring harassment, assault, abuse, and even becoming victims of murder, we the students of the University of Utah, have watched as our campus leadership has continually failed to take accountability for the faults leading to numerous horrendous tragedies. This administration has maintained the position that we are the sole cause of the violence committed against us, protecting the institutions that enable the perpetrators of these crimes. We assert that victims are never responsible for their own harassment, their own assault, or their own abuse, and are especially never, ever responsible for their own murder. It is an injustice that students must bear the consequences of University police and administration, the very people hired to protect us, neglecting to prioritize our safety and wellbeing. We, the undersigned students of the University of Utah, declare that our institution and campus are not safe for all students.


We are told “see something, say something” and that “safety is a culture,” which we are responsible for creating on campus. Yet, when many (if not all) of us have done our due diligence in reporting our concerns to the University Police Department, we are routinely dismissed and ignored by officers who appear to be unequipped to assist us, indifferent to our wellbeing, or both. It is now routine that formal complaints regarding sexual assault, rape, stalking, and interpersonal violence are mishandled, and there are no indicators that this new normal will change anytime soon. We are at the sole mercy of an institution that we can not depend on.


The administration of the University of Utah has promised to improve safety. However, when these statements are preceded by a denial of any wrongdoing or neglect, we know that they are made on a sinking foundation. The first step in solving a problem is to admit that there is one. The University of Utah has continued to double down on denying that this university exposes students to a very real risk of violence every time we set foot on it. The University claims that the campus is safer today than it was a year ago and that the 30 recommendations it has begun to implement is evidence of this. We disagree.


While SafeU has brought in some new education, awareness, and resources, it is primarily a well-crafted public relations campaign. At best, the effective components of this initiative should have been in place years ago. At worst, the ineffective parts threaten the legitimacy of this entire plan. We refuse to reward the university for doing less than the bare minimum. SafeU must be seen as a floor, not a ceiling.


Clay Christensen defines this dilemma by noting “the very capabilities that propel an organization to succeed in sustaining circumstances will systematically bungle the best ideas for disruptive growth. An organization’s capabilities becomes its disabilities when disruption is afoot.” We are capable of quick action, steadiness, and measured responses. This is precisely what is preventing us from making real, progressive, and sustainable change to campus safety. The University has acted quickly, without meaningful input and involvement from student stakeholders;  Administration has been steady, fearing what dramatic restructuring of resources and power would mean for them; and leaders like Ruth Watkins and Dan Reed have had measured responses, neglecting to address the very human and vulnerable element at the heart of campus safety. 


We are now at a crossroads regarding how the University of Utah will be remembered. We can go down in infamy next to Michigan State University, which has systematically neglected student survivors, especially women. Or, we can rise to this challenge and emerge as national leaders in campus safety. 

In the words of James Baldwin, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” The same can be said for the University of Utah. We criticize our university and its response to student safety concerns because we can and deserve better. It is with our deepest frustration that we, proud students of the University of Utah, do resort to protest to make our voices heard. Hereby we declare the following demands of our university:

Accountability

- Establish a permanent student oversight board for campus safety which can hold hearings, investigate patterns of misconduct, and independently review campus safety initiatives
- Create a Student Ombudsman office similar to that for faculty which can advise students who experience institutional grievances.
- Establish a student advisory board that will facilitate reviews of the SafeU website and the Chief Security Officer.
- UPD 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.
      - Maintain a zero tolerance policy for any officers who repeatedly fail to take effective action.

Transparency

-Develop a SafeU certification program for faculty, staff, and UPD officers to complete. This program will give students a visible way of telling who has been trained on:
      - Recognizing and dealing with interpersonal violence;
      - Knowing campus resources to direct; and
      - How to interact with students that have been affected by interpersonal/domestic violence.
- Release an OEO and Title IX grey paper that discusses the inconsistencies and gaps in Title IX advocacy to the general public.
- A regularly updated safety dashboard that aggregates crime statistics, OEO reporting statistics, and other safety metrics.

Resources

- A reorganization of the Center for Student Wellness which includes the following:
      - Graduate student-specific advocates and resources; 
      - Relocation of services to a centralized and secure location;
      - Allocation of a minimum of $300,000 of the administrative budget to the Center for Student Wellness.
- Restoring the Women’s Enrollment Initiative (WEI).
- Increasing financial support to the University Police Department to fund increased coordination, additional training, and a new location.
- Financially incentivize individuals and departments to complete the SafeU certificate training through Vice President Reeds’ office.

All of these resources must not come from areas of the budget that would increase cost to students through fees, tuition, or otherwise.
Due to the lack of action taken by the university, we are constructing a system of metrics to measure the progress made on achieving the above demands and to hold those in charge properly accountable. Along with these metrics, we request a meeting with President Watkins be set up by the end of the business day on October 21st, 2019.

These urgent and highly consequential student safety issues are not new to our campus nor are they new to any campus across the nation. This, however, does not provide our administration with any excuse as to why the above demands cannot be met. Our most pressing problems didn’t start with the current administration. Regardless, they have progressed to a fatal tipping point, one that has the capacity to destroy any hope of building a campus which is safe for all students.