Students Voice Campus Safety Concerns

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The students of St. Mary’s reveled in the continuing campus tradition of Hallowgreens on the night of Saturday, Oct. 26. According to Director of Residence Life Joanne Goldwater and Director of Public Safety Sean Tallarico, the evening was free of incidences outside of the usual drinking and rowdiness that gives Hallowgreens its infamous reputation.

However, the weeks leading up to Hallowgreens saw many students airing their concern about campus safety in light of recent weekend assaults on students from non-students outside of the St. Mary’s community.

Goldwater and Tallarico hosted a town-hall-style meeting in Goodpaster Hall on Oct. 23 so that students could be apprised of these situations and be given an opportunity to address their  questions and concerns about campus safety to Tallarico.

One of the most pressing frustrations that students voiced was that a timely warning e-mail about the most recent assault on Saturday, Oct. 19 was not sent out to students until over 24 hours after the incident had originally occurred on Monday, Oct. 21. The e-mail included a description of the suspects: “[two to four black] males… with dreadlocks, wearing dark clothes and wearing fitted baseball caps.”

Students wanted to know why the campus was not notified of the assault and the description of the suspects only a few hours after the incident, rather than over a full day.  During the same weekend, a report was called in to Public Safety about seeing a gun on campus. When Public Safety responded to the call, there was no gun to be found. However, students were still frustrated as to why the campus was not notified immediately about the possibility of a gun being brought onto our St. Mary’s campus.

“There have been several incidences where student safety has been in question, yet we were never given a warning,” said SGA Senate Leader and sophomore Andrew Wilhelm. “Even as we’ve moved on from the immediate danger of those situations, Public Safety has not done much to share their plans for increasing safety measures with the campus community.”

A timely warning, according to Goldwater, is “something [the campus is] mandated to do through the Cleary Law. In the event that there is a potential threat to the campus, we have to put out a warning in a timely manner with information about what happened, if possible a description of who might be involved with it, and what to do if you have information.”

Tallarico admitted that, in gathering information for a timely warning, he may have waited too long to notify students. “I tried to find out as much information as we as a department possibly could before we sent out [a timely warning],” he said. “My concern was that I do not want to be in a position where we are accused of crying wolf. Should we have put it out sooner? Yes. And I take responsibility for that.”

There was also concern about the possibility of racial profiling as a result of the suspect descriptions. Tallarico addressed this concern by saying that in light of an incident two years ago in which a suspect was racially profiled at St. Mary’s, Public Safety would be very cautious in questioning suspects. “We had a credible eyewitness and a victim that came forward to report this incident,” he said.

This particular incident is very close to being resolved. On the night of Hallowgreens, Saturday, Oct. 26, a report was called in to Public Safety by a student who had seen a vehicle on campus which was involved with the most recent assault. Deputies from the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, who were on hand at Hallowgreens, located the vehicle and took those inside the vehicle into custody, took photos of these individuals, and had them positively identified by the victim and an eyewitness.  As of press time, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office is looking into pressing charges.

Part of the reason that St. Mary’s has seen more serious incidents as of late, according to Goldwater, is the new age of information sharing and social media. “We used to be this little isolated enclave way down there in southern Maryland. People are now discovering us, whether that’s good or bad,” she said. “We are now seeing some behaviors on campus that put people on edge. It makes us unfortunately a little more suspicious than we otherwise might have been.”

In response to these safety issues, students and members of the administration hope to bridge the communication gap between students and Public Safety in order to find more proactive solutions to prevent assaults and other crimes from happening on campus.

“I do think that there have been some valid concerns from the students in regard to communication and we’re working to make that better,” said Goldwater. Tallarico added that a Public Safety Advisory Committee made up of student volunteers is in the process of being re-established. “I’ve been wanting to [put the committee together] since I came to St. Mary’s. I was really happy that students came forward [at the town hall meeting] to give me their names as potential committee members.”

“I will come to any function or any dorm meeting that you want me to come to,” said Tallarico. “I will talk about safety issues, I will talk about whatever is a concern of theirs. We can have open dialogue on their perception of Public Safety. We’re here to protect you.”

Wilhelm is hopeful that new student initiatives will aid Public Safety in keeping St. Mary’s secure. “SGA actually just passed a resolution (sponsored by Townhouse Senator Taylor Schafer and myself)…calling for the instillation of more Blue Light emergency phones, investigation into the instillation of a campus wide emergency alert system (i.e. Text Alerts), and the opportunity for more on campus training to deal with emergency situations.”

Goldwater stressed that the close-knit campus community is another great defense against further assaults. “I have always found in my 20 years here that our community comes together magnificently when we need to. We came together this past summer when we needed to, and we came together for Hallowgreens,” she said. “People have understood that we have to look out for each other, to be there for each other, and to support and help on each other.”

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