The Maneater

Campus task force for campus safety is in formative stages

The task force will examine assault, alcohol abuse, and awareness of mental health issues.

In light of the three clery releases sent out to MU students this semester and national news concerning former student Sasha Menu Courey’s experience, campus safety has been on freshman Kelly Yambor’s mind.

Yambor said she does not feel that being alerted to happenings like the ones in the releases after the fact is helpful.

“I don't feel as safe as I used to on this campus,” Yambor said. “I feel like the university needs to start emphasizing the importance of our safety and resources on campus a lot more than it does.”

Faculty Council members Rebecca Johnson and Tim Evans share Yambor’s concerns for students and are responding.

Johnson and Evans, who respectively head Faculty Council’s Diversity Enhancement Committee and Student Affairs Committee, are assembling a task force to examine interrelated problems of assault, alcohol abuse and awareness of mental health issues.

This initiative will go toward enhancing campus safety and looking at resources already available, said Johnson, an adjunct associate professor in the School of Nursing and College of Veterinary Medicine.

“The Diversity Enhancement Committee is charged with ensuring that we have a campus that's respectful and receptive to all,” she said. “And part of that is that it’s safe for all. We have a commitment as faculty members to do whatever we can to enhance student safety.”

The task force is still in its formative stages, Johnson said.

For now, it has been discussed with and approved by Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton.

Concerning the makeup of the task force, Johnson and Evans plan to engage a variety of interested parties, from faculty members of Diversity Enhancement Committee and Student Affairs Committee, to campus police and student leaders in organizations such as the Missouri Student Association and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center.

Their efforts will also extend past campus to individuals in Columbia. Johnson said discussion with people in the city is pertinent for making sure students are also safe in the community.

“We’ve had one meeting, and we’re about to have another meeting with more constituents participating,” Johnson said.

Evans, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, said that the need for this campaign became more apparent following the incident concerning Menu Courey.

“We were looking at some of these issues (of alcohol abuse, mental health awareness and sexual assault) ahead of time,” Evans said. “But when the problems came to our awareness with the tragedy of Sasha Menu Courey, it became clear that these were all three components of what transpired there.”

Johnson and Evans said MU currently has resources pertaining to the issues in question, and their goal is to integrate the resources into the realm of student awareness, especially in the event of an emergency.

A lack of thorough understanding of available resources may result in students seeking help in places that do not pertain to their specific needs, Johnson said.

“There are just so many avenues of entry to get help for a problem that I think it’s confusing for people to know where to go to approach a problem,” Johnson said.

Evans said although there are existing programs for help across campus, students may be inhibited by a lack of awareness during an emergency.

The duo seeks to come up with a list of best practices to address the issues and directions for faculty and for students.

“In an emergency, when it’s timely and people are not in a position to go down and look at a long list of policies, they need to have an idea of how to do that,” Evans said. “There are a lot of existing programs … and what we’re trying to do is (ask,) how can we harmonize some of those approaches so that everybody knows there is an appropriate way to go on if something happens.”

Yambor said another issue is students may often feel nothing bad can happen to them on campus.

“I do feel like the campus told us about or resources such as the RSVP Center, STRIPES and other forms of campus safety,” she said. “But I feel as if students don't take them seriously.”

Evans and Johnson said a big part of the campaign will be increasing bystander awareness and accountability.

“You have to get everybody in the room to figure out how to do that,” Evans said. “It’s a large undertaking, but this holistic approach is what’s needed, so that we can actually come up with something that everyone’s aware of.”

Awareness will be a big part of whatever form the project takes, Johnson said.

“We want to increase awareness of the problem and what to do,” she said. “And (we also want to) increase a sense of responsibility and respect for ourselves and each other, so students and faculty are clear about — in this particular incident — how to keep each other safe.”

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