Students question Chatham’s response to recent Oakland assaults

Within the past two weeks in Oakland near the University of Pittsburgh, there have been at least four assaults, three being sexual assaults against women one being an assault against a man. All of the suspects are men with vague descriptions.

The University of Pittsburgh sent out campus alerts after the third assault took place and has recently sent out an email to students after the fourth.

“The safety and security of all members of the Pitt community remains our highest priority, and we take these incidents very seriously. We continue to take the steps necessary to safeguard our students, faculty and staff,” read the email from Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Safety & Emergency Management of University of Pittsburgh, Ted P. Fritz.

The email continues to give students tips to stay safe in the city and on campus such as “Always keep your cell phone charged and on you”, “Trust your gut. If you are uncomfortable, leave,” and “Do not approach suspicious persons or vehicles.” There are also links to the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE) and the contact information of their Title IX coordinator as well as a list of things the campus safety will do now, including more patrols and a texting function for reporting to them.

Robert DuBray, Director of Facilities Management and Public Safety, also sent out an email on Tuesday to Chatham’s community. Chatham’s email appeared to be similar to Pitt’s though not as comprehensive. The email gives a brief description of the recent crimes and tips that are very similar to the Pitt email for students traveling to Oakland, though only the Public Safety non-emergency number is given as a resource.

Leighton Meyers, a Chatham senior, says that DuBray’s email was only sent after she emailed Student Affairs and Public Safety a few days before. Meyers received a response from Chatham’s chief of police, Donald Aubrecht, saying, “Due to the fact that the alleged crimes took place on the University of Pittsburgh campus, Chief Loftus was required to alert his student body. If these alleged crimes would have taken place here at Chatham, I too would have sent out an immediate alert to the campus community.”

Meyers also received a response from Mary Utter, Assistant Dean of Students saying, “Please know that we are working coordination with Public Safety to get a message out to Chatham students.”

“It’s disheartening how there were two different contradicting responses as if the issue hadn’t been brought up at all [amongst faculty and staff],” said Meyers, “And the ‘we weren’t required to immediately release information so we won’t’ attitude in the first email acts as propaganda for the failed crime prevention meetings more than a concern at all.”

With students going to Oakland for shopping, events on nearby campuses, cross registered classes, and parties, just two miles down the road, Chatham students are asking for a better sense of security on campus and more resources.

Alex Waasdorp, a junior, expressed anger that Chatham hasn’t taken better action on the issue which she heard about on the news over the past weekend.

“The University of Pittsburgh was aware of [the attacks] because a lot of them were on the local campus and Fifth Avenue. That’s really close,” said Waasdorp, who was concerned that she was just hearing about the crimes. “It’s an injustice to our students that they can’t protect us by staying aware of these sorts of situations.”

As former CSG Class of 2018 President, Waasdorp met with the chief of police about the distance between students and Public Safety. She said officers walking around and handing out the emergency and nonemergency numbers on campus is not enough, and suggests that bigger changes may be needed because she feels the issue is treated “like a joke.” Waasdorp encourages the Chatham community, faculty, staff and students alike, to report more frequently to make safety a larger issue on campus. Beyond this, she doesn’t see a clear solution.

“I don’t have faith in our public safety, and I feel if anything, there will be a few policy changes. But that’s not what we need; we need a leadership change. We need it so that we have a leader of public safety that we can count on and [who] knows what’s going on around us. [Students need to know] that they’re not in the Chatham bubble they expect us to be in,” said Waasdorp.

She believes that sending out an email after students have “informed themselves” about issues in the surrounding areas is reactive and not “proactive in a way that would protect us.”

Since the email was sent out, there has been a promotion of the Crime Prevention Series on campus taking place in the Fickes Living Room. This month’s topic: How to be “streetwise” and safe. March’s topic will be on identity theft.

Chatham Student Government has created a Safety Committee that is chaired by junior student Maraena Testa. Students should contact Testa at MTesta@Chatham.edu for more information on how their voices can be heard about this topic.

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