Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Op-Ed: Campus Security Is Dead, Long Live Campus Security

by Sarah Hayes

On April 18, a young woman at Meramec campus, Blythe Grupe, was attacked in the bathroom of the Communications South building. Her attacker, who according to Grupe intended to kill her, jumped her and grabbed her neck in a strangling attempt. The woman's screams attracted an instructor, who was able to break them up and call Campus Police. In turn, Campus Police took the assailant, student Jevon Mallory, into custody only to turn him back into public life with a slap on the wrist - a barring of the young man from all Saint Louis Community College campuses.
During the first 48 hours of the attack, no charges were filed and no statement from the college to students or press was released. It was only after Grupe's family approached the press did Kirkwood police officially file charges against Mallory: assault on school property, a class-D felony. According to Missouri law, the most years Mallory will possibly face in jail are four years. STLCC did not officially release a statement on the Meramec assault until April 23, the same day Mallory was charged and nearly a week after the initial attack. Four days after Mallory was charged, Chancellor Myrtle Dorsey held a press conference in which she formally apologized for how the college handled the attack and reaffirmed that their main priority was student safety.
At this point, local press have been extensively covering the Meramec attack, questioning why the college waited so long to issue an official statement or press charges. Several female students have approached local news station KDSK and said that they too had been victimized by Mallory and had informed Campus Police of his activities, although Campus Police would not confirm these statements. Amidst everything, on April 29, Chancellor Dorsey announced the resignation of Meramec's president, George Wasson, and that Wildwood's own President Pam McIntyre will serve as interim president for the belabored campus. 'Safety Forums' are to be held at every STLCC campus so safety procedures can be reviewed and questions about how our campuses response to incidents can be answered.
When it rains, it pours - and it's pouring buckets right now on the college's reputation. The last thing STLCC's public image needs right now is a black eye and yet here we are, punching ourselves in the face. Waiting almost a week to inform students of an attack on the Meramec campus? Whack. Not formally charging the student assailant until the victim's family went to the press? Whack. Campus Police pretty much letting the young man go with a slap on the wrist that amounts to only a piece of paper in practice, since there's nothing concrete that was there to stop Jevon Mallory from coming onto another STLCC campus and attacking another student? Whack whack whack.
The Chancellor and other representatives of the college have said that campus safety is their top priority. How are they answering the public's concerns over recent attacks? Open forums and an emergency text service, as well as a public reshuffling of administration. Surely, we can do better. This is not a problem that can be easily brushed aside, even if we might wish to in order to make our college look better. Saint Louis Community College as a whole needs to stop pretending like everything is good and right in the kingdom of higher education and recognize our issues - and that one of those issues is campus safety.
Campus violence is not a recent issue, especially not to Meramec students. It was only last year that a massive fight broke out on Meramec campus between a group of female students; it caught local news' attention as one of the students carried her infant child into the fight, bringing a cry for child services to intervene in the situation. There have been fights on all STLCC campuses but this is the first time in recent history that security procedures have changed after an incident.
Let's face it, this is not an issue the campus can spackle and forget. It's a problem that has roots at every level of this institution. Being an open college coupled with a student body lacking in school pride and unity as well as security standards that are not up to date means whatever solution arises will be complex and will take time to put into action. Measures need to be put into place so that when a student reports harassment and threats from another student, that offending student is dealt with, not kept on campus to possibly attack a classmate. Having people throw themselves on their swords may assuage public anger but it is not going to help the young woman currently too afraid to come to class because she's not sure Campus Police will reach her in time in case she is hurt.
We are Saint Louis Community College. We can take care of our students while promoting their wellbeing and education. We should not need a major news story to prod us into action. We are better than this. We have to be better than this. We need to work together to create practical, long-lasting solutions for our campus security problems or the next time another Jevon Mallory attacks a student, it's going to have a much different ending.

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