SALT LAKE CITY — Starting this fall, all course syllabuses at the University of Utah will include a required safety message for students telling them about campus alerts and how to report suspicious activity, request courtesy escorts or otherwise contact campus police.
The message also refers students to safety resources and information available online at safeu.utah.edu.
The student-led initiative was unanimously supported by the Associated Students of the University of Utah and later approved by the Academic Senate last spring. It comes on the heels of the separate murders of two U. students who were shot to death on campus last year and the year before.
Kaitlin McLean, ASUU senate chairwoman for the 2018-19 academic year, along with then-ASUU President Connor Morgan, led the effort to add the following statement to all syllabuses:
“The University of Utah values the safety of all campus community members. To report suspicious activity or to request a courtesy escort, call campus police at 801-585-COPS (2677). You will receive important emergency alerts and safety messages regarding campus safety via text message. For more information regarding safety and to view available training resources, including helpful videos, visit safeu.utah.edu.”
While the addition to class syllabuses enjoyed strong support from the Academic Senate, there was some pushback from a few faculty members who argued that the content of a course syllabus is a matter of academic freedom.
Some said the university had other means to communicate safety information to students.
Still others suggested the that the statement be a recommended — but not a required — part of a syllabus, according to minutes of the meeting.
Ultimately, just six members of the Academic Senate of around 100 voted in opposition and two abstained, according to the minutes.
McLean, a recent graduate who will soon start medical school at the U., lived on campus for four years and off campus for her final year of studies. This gave her a unique perspective as she served on the university's Presidential Task Force for Campus Safety.
The task force was formed by then U. President David Pershing after a student reported in October 2016 that she had been forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and raped in the north Merrill Engineering Building parking lot. The investigation was suspended in December 2016 because of a lack of evidence in the case, university officials said at the time.
McLean served on the latest iteration of the panel, which was brought together after the killing of Lauren McCluskey, a student-athlete shot to death on campus in the fall of 2018 by a 37-year-old man she dated briefly who had lied to her about his name, age and that he was a convicted sex offender.
In June, McCluskey's parents filed a $56 million lawsuit against the university, claiming it was a last resort to make its campus safer. The civil suit alleges the U. took no responsibility for their daughter's murder and ignored her reports of stalking, physical and emotional abuse, intimidation, dating violence and other behavior.
Those events, as well as the 2017 death of Chinese student ChenWei Guo, who was shot to death in a carjacking in Research Park, as well as the recent killing of U. student McKenzie Lueck, who was allegedly killed by a man she met in a North Salt Lake park in the early hours of June 17, shaped McLean's college experience, she said.
"I was there for ChenWei and I was there for Lauren and I was there for McKenzie. But I think what shaped my experience more was the work I was able to see that was being done behind those headlines, the work and many hours that was put into communicating safety and communicating resources," she said.
From top administrators to student leaders, "the one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that every person I interacted with on that campus cared, still cares and probably never will stop caring" about the safety of people who live, work or attend classes at the U., McLean said.
As a task force member, McLean had access to a large binder of emails sent to U. President Ruth Watkins who had asked the university community for advice about how to make the campus safer and to express their concerns about the safety of the place they live, work and attend classes and events.
"Those things, I know now, they don't fall on deaf ears. People listen and something is actually done with that information. I think that was a rather transformative experience for me," she said.
As for her own experiences as a student who lived on and off campus, McLean said she was "fairly aware" of campus resources.
"I felt very safe. I feel very comfortable saying that," she said.
McLean said she researched other PAC-12 institutions' policies and safety in her work to develop a safety statement for the U.
She learned that two-thirds of the universities require safety information to be listed on course syllabuses, such as what to do in an active shooter situation or where to find campus safety and emergency preparedness resources.
This statement is required and U. faculty are strongly encouraged to also include a syllabus statement addressing sexual misconduct, which includes information about reporting and support resources. That recommendation predates student leaders' efforts to include the required safety statement.
A syllabus helps students navigate through their courses. It includes information about the course, objectives, policies, procedures, a course calendar and required readings.
Including safety information on every course syllabus helps ensure all students have access to that information regardless of their age, year in school, major or department, McLean said. McLean said she has seen the statement on the syllabuses of some of her upcoming medical school classes.
While some faculty pushed back regarding the requirement, McLean said if even one person benefits from the mode of communication, it's worth it.
McLean said she sought input from campus police, top administrators, student leaders, the safety task force, faculty, students and staff as she developed the language of the statement, which slightly amended before it was endorsed by the Academic Senate.
“I don’t think there are many statements that would apply to the entire student body and faculty,” said McLean.
“But safety is one of them.”