Emergency situations are inevitable on a college campus, but the way those situations are addressed can decrease the chance of repeated incidents in the future.
Sonoma State University students were alerted via email, phone and text message last Monday of a gas leak in Darwin Hall, a gas leak that lasted a total of 1-2 hours and didn’t present an imminent threat to campus. This brings to question how certain incidents and emergencies are deemed important enough to alert the entire student body but others are not.
Nearly three months into the fall semester, there have been two alleged reports of rape in the residence halls—rapes that were never publicly addressed by campus police or administrators.
How does a minor gas leak present more of a threat on college campus than sexual assault? With sexual assault being such a prevalent issue on college campuses across the nation, how can a university make the decision to not alert students of a potential predator on campus?
In the last two months, two similar incidents of rape occurred in residence halls and a library at California State University, Long Beach.
Following the report of these incidents to campus police, CSU Long Beach police sent out a campus-wide email to students alerting the student body of the rape and to contact police with any tips or knowledge of the crime.
An email notice sent out to CSU Long Beach students on Sept. 22 said, “In the early morning hours of Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, a sexual assault occurred in a Residential Housing Hall on campus. The CSULB Police Department was advised of the assault on Sept. 21, 2015. A female student reported she was raped by a male with whom she is acquainted when she was temporarily incapable of granting consent.”
Why hasn’t Sonoma State police shown the same courtesy to its students and rape victims by sending out a similar alert?
The fact that Sonoma State police haven’t notified students of the recent rapes on campus shows the apathy the administration has toward student safety—ironically, that same apathy students appear to have toward campus issues such as this.
Emergency situations and crime on college campuses happen every day—as seen in the recent tragedies at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. and at Northern Arizona University, resulting in multiple deaths of college students at the hands of gun violence.
What is the university’s role in preventing these incidents and alerting students when these incidents happen?
Following the shooting at Umpqua Community College, Sonoma State University Police Chief sent out an email statement to students acknowledging the tragedy and advising students what to do if a similar incident happened here.
In the case of the gas leak in Darwin Hall, many students received alerts at different times with different messages, an issue that may simply be because of poor cell phone reception on campus.
If there were to be a more threatening emergency situation at Sonoma State, the university needs a more effective form of communication—not a spotty, unreliable text message or email that students aren’t guaranteed to receive.
Communication is the key to a safe, secure college campus, and without it, a campus simply can’t provide the level of safety students expect when attending college.
In the multiple cases of gun violence on college campuses recently, a better alert system couldn’t have stopped the tragedy—but a better form of prevention and communication prior to the tragedy could have.
What Sonoma State and college campuses in general need desperately is a clear, active form of communication between administrators and students before an emergency situation occurs.
That communication shouldn’t be an occasional email warning students about a gas leak or to be alert when walking alone at night on campus.
In the recent cases of rape on campus, students need to know that police and administrators care about their welfare and safety and an alert (or lack thereof) doesn’t provide that reassurance students are in need of.
The alert system Sonoma State uses is simply ineffective. Something needs to change with how the police make themselves accessible to students. If a sexual assault is reported on campus, students need to be alerted, even if the case has been resolved, suspended or remains under investigation.
The fact that Sonoma State police haven’t notified students of the recent reported rapes on campus suggests the campus police are being too lax about student safety. As the police chief notes in today’s story, both reported rapes were suspended after the alleged victims did not want to cooperate with police in the investigation.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no risk o students. The police should have erred on the side of student safety and issued campus-wide alerts.Crime and emergencies are inevitable in college to an extent but how college campuses respond—and more importantly how they prevent them from happening—can transform the relationship administrators and police officers have with the student body.
The STAR hopes campus police services can demonstrate the same vigilance and sense of urgency in notifying students about alleged rapes on campus as they do gas leaks.