Campus leaders say they’re working to make SIU safer.
In her State of the University Address Wednesday, Chancellor Rita Cheng said it’s a myth that the campus is unsafe. While the chancellor said the campus is safer than others, she said the university has been working to improve conditions for students.
In recognition of Campus Safety Awareness Month, the SIU Department of Public Safety is also working to reduce crime and safety hazards at the university.
The DPS annual report from 2010 showed 11 cases of aggravated assault on campus and in residence halls. This number is higher than 2009 and 2008, when four and eight cases of aggravated assault were reported, respectively.
The report also stated, there was a decrease in reported forcible sex offenses and burglaries since 2008.
The 2011 annual report will not be released until October but assaults have occurred since the release of the last report.
A man was convicted in August and found guilty for sexually assaulting a student on campus in May 2011. An arrest warrant was placed for Jamal Patrick Jones Jr., 21, who was arrested in Philadelphia and transfered to Jackson County where he was convicted.
In March, two students were assaulted by three individuals on bicycles. The students were sprayed in the face with a chemical substance, and one was struck by the individuals.
“Safety at SIU Carbondale is of vital importance,” Cheng said in her address. “I am confident that public safety is also a top priority for the city of Carbondale. We work closely with the city staff and Carbondale Police Department on significant safety issues, and we will continue to partner to improve campus and community safety.”
Cheng said the university has around the same average violent crime index for similar-sized campuses in the nation, which is 62 incidents per 100,000 students. She said this is far lower than the overall U.S. crime rate of 466 incidents per 100,000 residents.
She also said changes are being made to the Clery Act, a law that requires all institutions of higher education that participate in the federal student financial aid program to disclose information about crime on their campuses and surrounding community.She said several campus offices will sponsor the first of four training sessions for 1,200 people designated as campus security authorities. Cheng said this group would include coaches, Registered Student Organization advisers, housing staff and police officers.
Cheng said SIU will hire a compliance person in the Department of Public Safety to work on a number of these areas.
As a way to help reduce crime on campus, including assaults, the Department of Public Safety is recognizing National Campus Safety Awareness month in September.
The month is dedicated to university safety awareness by offering programs to educate students, parents, faculty and staff on how to stay safe and handle an emergency or crime.
Russell Thomas, all-hazards preparedness resource coordinator for DPS, said the department is not taking extra precautions in light of recent parties and the power outage on the strip. He said the safest thing students can do in a power outage is stay inside.
Thomas said he thinks most students appreciate the safety awareness programs DPS offers, but he does not think many students care about campus safety until something happens to them or their friends.
Thomas said the DPS has been a strong supporter of campus safety awareness even before the month received national recognition. He said SIU offers multiple prevention programs and seminars year-round, not just for safety awareness month.
The best way to lower assault odds is by using the buddy system, he said, which means to travel in pairs. Thomas said this would not eliminate the risk of being assaulted, but it would lower the chances tremendously.
While DPS addresses campus awareness, another organization offers products to help increase student safety.
Lacey Ehrlich, a representative of Productivity PR Inc., a public relations firm based out of California, said her company is responsible for promoting products that increase student safety on and around campus as a part of campus safety awareness month. She said the main items promoted this year are Bluetooth headsets and other technologies.
Ehrlich said Bluetooth headsets can help students pay more attention to their surroundings and avoid a blind spot in students’ peripheral vision from having a phone next to their head. She said the Bluetooth headsets she promotes are not expensive and can be used to lower chances of phone theft.
Ehrlich also said her company is promoting digital peek holes students can attach to their doors, which will take pictures of anyone who knocks on the door and display them on a screen to identify visitors.
Some students said they already feel safe on campus, even without new technological safety features and emphasis on safety awareness.
“I feel safe (on campus). I don’t walk alone at night, but if I’m with a friend I feel safe,” said Lauryn Livengood, a senior from Villa Grove studying radiological sciences. Livengood said she has noticed some lights on campus need replacement, but she also thinks people on campus are safe.Livengood said she hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in campus safety in her time at SIU.
George Wilson, a junior from Detroit studying aviation management, said he thinks the campus is safe, but it could use some improvements. Wilson said he would like to see more lights on campus and brighter bulbs for the light poles. He said he has not seen much of a change in SIU’s safety since he’s attended the university, but he thinks the university is trying to make improvements for the safety of students on campus.