Saluki Safety Update convenes to improve safety of students, staff and community

Crime, COVID-19 and mental health access were among the topics at the
Saluki Safety Update, a virtual forum made up of panelists representing Southern Illinois University (SIU) students, university, and community leaders on Jan. 25.

“As promised, we wanted to make sure that we had the Safety Committee, some good updates and to invite not only folks that are inside SIU but also we have our partners here with us as well,” Chancellor Austin Lane said. “The panelists would give a lot of background on their efforts to enhance campus safety and answer as many questions as time allowed.”

Dianah McGreehan, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GSPC) referenced the death of four students last semester.


The four students were Keeshanna Jackson, Joseph Ermel, Jacob Jurinek, and Daniel Lobo.

“Fall semester was very interesting with different experiences for SIU students and different traumas and tragedies they experienced,” McGreehan said.

Ben Newman, chief of police at SIU and director of public safety, said the number one crime on campus is theft.

“We work hard to keep our campus a safe environment. We have a full service law enforcement agency as well as providing coordination with housing in the Dean of Students office in order to keep students safe and well informed,” Newman said.

SIU continues to send Clery Act notices as required by federal law, but the police also have a working relationship with the city of Carbondale, Newman said.

The Clery Act originated in 1990, after the rape and murder of Jeanne Clery in 1986.

It is a federal law requiring colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information.


Carbondale Police Chief Stan Reno said his department works closely with campus police.

“In cases that include students or university faculty staff, we follow up on those things. We talk about what’s happening and the facts of the case,” Reno said.

Crime is down for the year of 2021 compared to the prior year, Reno said.

“We did unfortunately have some very serious and violent crime incidents and we continue to follow the trend that we’re seeing nationwide where crime is down but violent crime has increased,” Reno said.

The Carbondale Police Department (CPD) has recently made some key arrests that they feel will slow down some of the violent incidents that have occurred over the last few months, Reno said.

“As far as gun violence and specific cases that were referenced, those investigations are ongoing and CPD is committed to working on those on a daily basis,” Reno said.

Those cases don’t often progress as quickly as they’d like, Reno said, but the CPD has to work within the guidelines that they’re provided through the justice system and the state’s attorney’s office.

The CPD is also restricted on what information it can provide and share until it’s the right time in the investigation to release that information, Reno said.

“I just want to reaffirm and reassure everyone that we are still working on these cases and we hope to bring all of them to a successful conclusion,” Reno said.

Jeff Burgin, vice-chancellor for Student Affairs, said after a student protest in December, SIU wanted to make sure it enhanced communication with students.

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“At the request of the Chancellor and student leaders our safety committee was formed,” Burgin said. “It created an opportunity for us to have a deeper dive into dialogue about the safety issues and concerns that our students have here on campus and in the community.”

Jennifer Jones-Hall, the dean of students at SIU said the university works jointly with Newman to make sure every weekend he knows which fraternities off campus are hosting events and parties.

“Party hosts are making sure that they’re allowing in only students with their student IDs,” Hall said.

Amanda Heslinga, director of Saluki Cares, explained how the program works for people who may not be familiar with it.

“Saluki Cares is an early alert initiative for all students and is a conduit for any student who is experiencing distress or any issues that get reported to them,” Heslinga said.

It has a website where people can make a referral, Heslinga said.

“Anyone can refer a student to Saluki Cares whether that’s the student themselves, faculty, staff or even a community member,” Heslinga said

After being contacted, administrators follow up with the students and get them the proper resources they need.

Dr. Andy Riffey, the medical chief of staff at student health services, addressed Covid issues.

“I’m proud of our students and how they’ve been vaccinated and want to encourage those who have not been vaccinated to go ahead and get vaccinated,” Riffey said.

There was some push back during the event’s question and answer session with someone asking how the administration can assert its doing all it can with COVID-19 when classrooms don’t allow for distancing, proper masks and vaccination aren’t required and masking isn’t enforced.

It is required in compliance with the governor’s orders to wear a mask in a public, indoor setting, Newman said.

Another participant asked why students don’t have the option to attend virtually.

Lane pointed out all students attended virtually the first week to ensure all students were getting tested as needed.

Abby Bilderback, director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), spoke about access to mental health help on campus.

“Some of the biggest misconceptions that have been voiced or expressed by students is that there’s a wait list, that CAPS isn’t available and I want folks to hear that we’re not on a waitlist at all right now,” Bilderback said.

CAPS has increased its staffing and also had some funding sources available to waive door fees for students that have a financial need, Bilderback said.

CAPS has looked at expanding its group and individual therapy services and student feedback is important to them, Bilderback said.

The event then transitioned into a question and answer session.

During the Q&A, someone asked if the position of confidential advisor had been filled since Rebecca Gonnering, the former Confidential Advisor for Survivor Support Services, left.

The Confidential Advisor assists survivors of sexual assault, misconduct, domestic violence, stalking, and rape.

“We have employed Dr. John Massey as the confidential advisor at this point in time,” Hall said.

In terms of overall safety concerns, Lane said, there are so many groups that are meeting, talking, discussing, and listening, adjusting, and changing almost on a day-to-day basis.

“We’re not always going to make everybody happy, I’m learning that this pandemic makes it almost impossible to make everyone happy. It’s impossible but we do the best we can with the information that we have to try and make decisions and so far we’re cautiously optimistic,” Lane said.

Staff reporter Joel Kottman can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter: @JoelKottman To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.