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U Of U Students Rally For Increased Campus Safety

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — University of Utah student leaders said they aren’t satisfied with the school’s response to the murder of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey at a walkout protest Monday.

The gathering came nearly one year after McCluskey was murdered, and students said they don’t feel safe and want university officials to take more action on campus.

“I don’t think it’s that safe,” said Kristen Ponce, who was a freshman living in campus dorms when McCluskey was murdered.

She said she felt like the campus was safe when she arrived last fall but that impression crumbled after McCluskey’s death.

“We deserve to feel safe, and the actions taken so far haven’t been enough,” Ponce said.

Speakers at the rally insisted they still feel unsafe, unbelieved and vulnerable on campus.

“We’re not trying to create a panic, or, say that the second you step onto the U’s campus you’re going to die. But, we wanted to make sure that students understand that not every student on this campus feels safe right now,” said Devon Cantwell, a graduate student senator who was among the student who met with administrators this morning to talk about their demands.

Students hold signs at a walkout protest at the President’s Circle on Oct. 21, 2018.

Students said they want more accountability from the university through a permanent student oversight board on safety. They also think university police must respond to student reports with greater urgency.

Following the murder, a three-member independent review panel found numerous mistakes were made by the university and by campus police. But, the panel concluded it was impossible to say whether McCluskey’s death could have been prevented.

McCluskey’s parents disagreed and sued the university. Students at the rally also disagreed and believe the university should have stepped up and taken responsibility.

“The university has been consistently failing women and men of this campus for years, and it’s culminated in the murder of someone really close to me,” said Shelby Gonzales, one of McCluskey’s friends. “The first step should be them (the university) saying we made some serious errors, and this is what we’re going do to change them going forward so this doesn’t happen again.”

Following McCluskey’s death, the university implemented 30 safety recommendations made by the review panel. But, students said those measures should have already been in place.

They said they still fear sexual assault cases will not be treated appropriately by campus police or the university.

Student leaders said they believe a student oversight board and a crime data dashboard on the SafeU website could come together quickly. That would enable students to have more direct input on student safety issues that arise and give students more up to the minute information on campus crime.

“We are shooting for a long-term structural change that will outlive us,” Cantwell said.