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National campus safety issues are focus of summit

Lehigh President Alice P. Gast told the conference attendees: "These issues deserve nothing less than our best thinking and our strongest commitment."

Administrators and experts in campus safety from around the country came together at Lehigh University to grapple with the complex problems that face every college campus and map a path forward.

The event, “Proceeding in Partnership,” was co-sponsored by the university and Security on Campus, the advocacy organization that was formed by the family of Jeanne Clery, who was murdered on the Lehigh campus in 1986.

The conference, held Thursday in Iacocca Hall on the Mountaintop Campus, coincided with the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Clery Act, which ensures that accurate and timely information about crimes on campus is available to the public. The conference represented the first cooperative effort between Lehigh and the organization since Jeanne Clery’s death.

Guests were welcomed by Lehigh Police Chief Ed Shupp, who was a sergeant of investigations at Lehigh when Jeanne Clery was murdered.

“I’ve been impressed and deeply moved by the courage Mrs. Clery and her family displayed in the immediate aftermath and in the years following the tragedy,” Shupp said. “The work that has been done by Mrs. Clery and her husband, and the organization that they founded, has dramatically impacted the lives of college students for the last quarter of a century.”

Lehigh President Alice P. Gast acknowledged that the critical issues discussed at the conference—alcohol and drug abuse, sexual violence, threat assessment and emergency response—are complex and difficult to resolve.

“These are not easy things to talk about. They do not yield simple solutions. But that does not mean they do not exist. These issues deserve nothing less than our best thinking and our strongest commitment. And that is what brings us here today,” Gast said.

Gast applauded the efforts of the Clery family in making campuses safer. “The Clerys suffered an unbearable loss, but out of their personal tragedy was born something truly life-affirming. This is an extraordinary legacy and we thank them for their unwavering dedication,” she said.

Gast also detailed concrete steps Lehigh has taken to underscore the institutional commitment to crime prevention, including a community policing program and joint surveillance efforts with the Bethlehem Police Department, the new Hawk Watch program that will train student volunteers to help make off-campus neighborhoods safer, and security tools and safety measures that will be incorporated into the recently dedicated South Side Greenway.

‘Today’s summit gives me hope’

An emotional address was delivered by Connie Clery, mother of the slain student. In a faltering voice and with tears in her eyes, Clery began by saying, “I’m overwhelmed. This is a dream come true for me. I love seeing Security on Campus with Lehigh. Jeanne must be smiling.”

In reflecting on her daughter, she said, “Jeanne was so sweet, and so beautiful, but she was more beautiful inside. After her death, I knew I had to do something. I didn’t want Jeanne’s life to be in vain.”

Since 1986, Clery and her husband have dedicated themselves to pushing for legislation that would require colleges and universities to disclose timely and accurate information about crimes on campus. SOC continues to push for legislation to protect college-aged students from violence and sexual assault.

“Today’s summit gives me hope,” Clery said. “I could not have done what we’ve done without my faith in God. This summit is a gift to my family and me. It shows Jeanne’s life wasn’t in vain.”

Clery specifically cited the efforts of Dr. Robert Carothers, president emeritus of the University of Rhode Island, who also delivered the keynote address at the conference and detailed that institution’s efforts to reduce alcohol use on his campus.

“You are one of my heroes, for many years, for your work,” Clery said. “You’ve made a number of tough decisions that really changed the culture. But administrators and leaders can only do so much. We must engage students. Respect and responsibility need to come back in style and stay in style.”

The Rhode Island model

Caruthers came to the presidency of the University of Rhode Island in 1991, shortly before it was twice named the number one party school in the country by The Princeton Review. Key to addressing an alcohol-soaked social culture, he said, was admitting there was a problem.

“So let me begin by saying, ‘My name is the University of Rhode Island, and we’re an alcoholic. We’ve been sober for the past 15 years, more or less.’”

Caruthers said that the environment he encountered at URI led to extremely high levels of assaults, hazing incidents, suicides, drop-outs and other forms of academic failure. 

“Even events like our homecoming turned into such a drunken brawl spread over acres of land that young alumni couldn’t even bring their children,” he said.

Caruther’s administration took a number of strong steps to address the issue, including banning alcohol at any campus event, initiating extensive staff training, involving peer groups, targeting key groups (including athletes, Greek students and off-campus students), implementing parental notification and building alcohol and drug education into the curriculum.

“We also build support networks for those with problems, and we increased enforcement, including a three strikes policy,” he said.

Not surprisingly, he said, these measures encountered strong resistance from students, alumni, and the admissions and advancement offices.  Perhaps most vocal, he said, were Greek houses.

To underscore his support for the alcohol-reduction policies, Caruthers said he shut down eight Greek houses in three years, and even had some of the houses bulldozed. He also forged community coalitions, such as the Narragansett Coalition, which established a research group to produce longitudinal data on alcohol abuse.

Strong support of these policies, however, did not come until 1995, when the campus community was rocked by a violent incident involving the entire football team and a Greek house, which led to a number of severe injuries, several arrests, suspension of the entire team, and forfeiture of a game against the University of Connecticut.

“It was the first time that happened in NCAA history, and it got people’s attention,” he said. It also led to support from people across the country and student groups on campus.

His efforts are far from complete, he said. “You have to solve this problem every year,” he said. “And if you think you solved it, you’ve got a problem.”

Panel discussions continued throughout the day, and included remarks by Zane David Memeger, U.S Attorney for Eastern Pennsyvania;  Dr. Peter Lake, professor of law and Charles A. Dana Chair and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at the Stetson University Law School; John Smeaton, vice provost of Student Affairs at Lehigh; and Michelle Garcia, director of the Stalking Resource Center in the National Center for Victims of Crime.

The addresses and panels will be summarized in a report that will be distributed nationally in January 2012.

Photos by Douglas Benedict

 

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011

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