Dean of Students Liz Braun and Student Council organized a meeting on Wednesday night to discuss campus safety in light of the April 3 assault on campus. Topics covered included changes to the emergency response system, a review of administrative communication to students, and questions of campus and borough safety.
The meeting was attended by Dean Braun, Vice President for Facilities and Services Stu Hain, Director of Public Safety Owen Redgrave, Assistant Dean and Gender Education Advisor Karen Henry ’87, Alcohol Education and Intervention Specialist Tom Elverson ’75, and Public Safety Second Shift Sergeant Dominic Martino. Students present included Student Council President Simon Zhu ’11 and Vice President Olivia Ensign ’12.
Braun made clear that she hoped this meeting would be part of a “continuing conversation” about campus safety.
Changes to the Emergency Response System
The meeting opened with a question from Zhu, who asked members of the administration to explain their process of communication to the campus concerning the April 3 incident.
In the past, “if there was an assessment made by professionals in the field, as in police and Public Safety, we wouldn’t broadcast a public notification to campus,” Hain said.
He then explained that this incident caused them to re-evaluate the emergency response system. In the future, members of a 24/7 team of administrators will be contacted in the event of any incident on campus involving assault.
Hain was clear that going forward, the Swarthmore administration will take a more active role in the campus alert process. Now, he said, the 24/7 team will “let [Public Safety and Swarthmore Police] do their work, and we’ll do the work of communicating with the campus.”
The 24/7 team includes Braun, Hain, Director of Communications Nancy Nicely, Executive Assistant of Facilities and Services Paula Dale, and Vice President for Human Resources Melanie Young.
This 24/7 team will consider a number of factors before contacting the campus. Braun said such variables will include: “What was the nature of incident? How many were involved? Were there multiple witnesses? Where did it happen? Was it in public? Was it on campus or off campus?”
Hain added, “Is there a continuing threat to the community will always be the first [question]…If we think there’s an immediate continuing threat to the community, we’ll put something out right away.”
Review of Administrative Communication to Campus
The incident happened around 12:00 AM Sunday morning, and the victims reported it to Public Safety half an hour later. By the time Public Safety arrived on the scene, the perpetrators had left. After investigating the scene, Hain said, “The officers had made a determination that there wasn’t a continuing threat.”
Because there was no continuing threat to campus, no campus alert was sent out. Hain said, “At the time, we thought this was a fight between our students and town students.”
When asked if an incident such as a fight between Swarthmore students and town residents necessarily meant that no alert was needed, Hain said, “I think that’s a valid criticism.”
Braun took a moment to outline the timeline of administrative communication to campus. Redgrave and Braun began drafting an email to campus on Monday, April 4, in accordance with standard Public Safety practice when there is no continuing threat to campus.
At the same time on Monday, the assaulted student met with Assistant Dean Rafael Zapata. Afterward, Braun received further information about the incident from Dean Zapata that revealed the potentially homophobic nature of the assault.
She decided to delay putting such information in the Monday evening Public Safety email until she had spoken with the student victim herself about confidentiality.
Redgrave responded to a question about how the Monday afternoon Public Safety email did not list the correct location of the incident, and did not mention the hospitalization of the victims. The Public Safety email said that the assault happened near the train station, when it actually happened on Mertz Field.
Redgrave said that this was the result of a simple miscommunication, as the victims originally told Public Safety that the incident happened as they were walking down Magill Walk.
In response to the omission of the assault victims’ hospitalization, Redgrave said, “the first message from Public Safety is never intended to give every detail.” Braun said that these emails constitute a balancing act that involves protecting a student’s privacy.
Redgrave added that the hospital visit may not have been of community concern: “So far as going to the hospital…the hospital visit, much as I understand it, was for observation. Perhaps they did some tests. They didn’t get treated.”
The assaulted student told the Gazette that both he and the Penn student received x-rays, and his friend received a CT scan.
Many students found out about the April 3 incident on Monday night from a widely-circulated email by an RA, which included details of the potentially homophobic nature of the crime and mentioned the hospitalization of the victims.
When asked about the mechanism of an email circulating information about a campus incident, Braun said, “I worry when a viral email goes out that hasn’t been vetted by the victim himself, or that might potentially not have all the information…My primary concern was for our student and his friend.”
Hain expressed regret that campus-wide alerts were not sent out earlier. “If we had to do it over again, we would’ve sent a text [that] night and followed up with an email the next day. There was a day lag with this one.”
Braun later commented, “Everyone in Public Safety did an outstanding job responding, but is this one of those situations where in hindsight, would we have sent something out Sunday night? I think the answer is yes.”
Ensign then voiced concerns about campus safety and lighting. Hain said that in 2009, students did a “campus walk” to determine areas of campus that required more lighting, leading to additional lamps in the WRC/Olde Club courtyard area and near the BCC.
Braun said that plans were in the works to do a similar campus walk in the fall, but added that students should not hesitate to send Hain (chain1) or Redgrave (oredgra1) an email about current areas of campus that are poorly lit.
Conversation then turned to a potential swipe-card system on campus to replace individual dorm keys. The students present agreed that there is substantial student support for such a system as a measure to increase campus safety.
Hain said that the best swipe card systems have a “combinations of swipe cards and cameras,” but that such a system would mean that “either you have more people watching the cameras all the time, or only use cameras to have a record of who went in and out.”
He said that when this issue was brought up in the past, students were not particularly comfortable with increased camera surveillance on campus.
Braun said that she was enthusiastic about a potential swipe system. She added that she is interested in hearing student feedback about such a system, given that it has come up in strategic planning conversations.
Ensign voiced concerns that Swarthmore students take their safety for granted, saying, “That sense of security needs to be shaken a little bit. All the same precautions you take in a major city should be taken here.”
Redgrave agreed, and noted, “Complacency is an effect of low crime rates.” Still, he was impressed by the vigilance of Swarthmore students and community members. “One of the reasons I think the campus is as safe as it is…is the response we get from students with regard to suspicious people and suspicious circumstances.”
Outreach to the Borough
Hain, Braun, and Vice President Maurice Eldridge met with the Mayor of Swarthmore and the Vice President of Borough Safety last Sunday to talk about the April 3 assault and the larger problem of abusive language—including homophobic slurs—from borough residents.
“We’ve made them really aware, and I think they’re really disquieted about it,” said Hain. “They’ve had conversations with the principal of the high school…They said, if you’re walking through town and this happens, please call.”
“They were really stunned and shocked,” added Braun.
Braun reminded students to call Public Safety if they are subject to catcalls, homophobic or racial slurs, or other abusive language on campus.
Furthermore, she told students to call 911 immediately and provide as many details as possible if they are subject to such abusive language while walking through the borough.
“[The borough authorities] couldn’t have been more clear about that,” she said.