SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – On the day before the one-year anniversary of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey’s murder on the University of Utah, nearly 200 students stood outside of the Park Building in President’s Circle Monday to protest the school administration’s response to student safety concerns.
The event was led by unsafeU, a student-led group advocating for campus safety. Organizers took turns during the protest reading stories submitted anonymously by individuals who said they were dismissed, invalidated, or ignored by campus police or officials.
Student protesters who spoke to ABC4 News said they were in attendance to support unsafeU’s declaration of protest issued last week to university administration.
“I’m here because I’m sick of the empty promises. As women, we’re told to take these precautions and when we do, we’re not heard, listened, or taken seriously,” said student Serena Madsen. “When things do happen, it’s funneled back to students and told it’s our fault. Some victim-shaming. Get it together and take some action for your students. I’m sick of it.”
“I’m really heartbroken because somebody died. This is a human being. As women, we see this happen all too often. But not even as women, we saw Chenwei die two years ago. Just to know that on our campus, we aren’t safe from violence, we aren’t safe from murder, it’s terrifying and heartbreaking,” said student Caroline Anderson.
In multiple statements, responses, and interviews with ABC4 News over the past few months, university officials said they’ve implemented a multitude of new policies, procedures, and protocols to improve campus safety. Some of those include adding a victim advocate to the police force, training officers in the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition’s lethality assessment program, and investing in lighting, security cameras, a courtesy escort program, and a new SafeRide program.
“We have implemented a lot of changes on campus starting with the 30 recommendations that we received last winter in response to the independent review. Those 30 recommendations have been completed in the process or they’re on-going,” said Annalisa Purser, spokesperson for the University of Utah.
Students with unsafeU said the university’s efforts thus far have not been good enough, stating that it has failed to take accountability for the shortcomings that led to McCluskey’s death. Their declaration of protest included adding students to the decision-making table and putting them in a position of power to oversee the school’s campus safety efforts.
“For me, it felt a lot like the administration is saving face. I feel like it’s a PR scheme. They’re trying to make themselves look better, but not doing anything substantial to fix the problem,” said student Emily Albrecht. “The fact that it’s taken this long and this much protest for us to get here is really frustrating.”
The student group originally asked to meet with President Ruth Watkins by the day of the protest. But Purser said Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Dan Reed and Vice President for Student Affairs Lori McDonald met with students Monday morning. In a statement to media, they said they agreed to carefully review students’ suggestions and then plan a follow-up meeting to respond to the petition in full.
“We welcome feedback from students. We certainly applaud students for caring about such an important issue and respect their right to exercise protest on campus. We know that it has been a difficult year for our students and we want to hear from them,” said Purser. “They have a perspective that the administration doesn’t always have access to. We know that it’s a journey that will be on-going and we want to continue to hear student voices and input as we move forward in that process.”
The statement from Reed and McDonald went on to say that they identified three listed suggestions that could be implemented quickly which are:
“Creation of a campus safety oversight board that includes students, staff and faculty. This board will be directed by the Chief Safety Officer, once that individual is hired. Candidates are currently being interviewed for this position and we expect to fill this new position before the end of the year.
The Office of the President has already begun work on a separate, but similar, request that we create a Student Advisory Committee. This committee will be comprised of a cross-section of the student population and will meet with and advise President Watkins on student interests and concerns. This committee will complement feedback already provided to the university’s administration through the Associated Students of the University of Utah.
Creation of a safety data dashboard that aggregates crime statistics, OEO/Title IX reporting statistics and other safety metrics. This dashboard will be added to the SafeU website.”
“This is just the beginning. We will continue moving forward. It is clear that there were mistakes and shortcomings in that [McCluskey] case and the university’s first priority afterward was to understand what happened and to try to address and fix those problems,” said Purser. “Creating a culture of safety is something that takes time and we understand that it’s going to take some time to rebuild trust between the students and the university and that is something that will also take time.”
The university also held a Community Reflection event at the Fort Douglas Post Chapel Monday afternoon for individuals impacted by interpersonal violence. A vigil in honor of Lauren McCluskey will be held Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in front of the Park Building.