U President Speaks About Campus Safety Year After Lauren McCluskey’s Death
Oct 23, 2019, 12:36 PM | Updated: Jan 9, 2020, 11:52 am
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – One year ago, the University of Utah embarked on a journey to learn from its mistakes in handling the case of Lauren McCluskey.
“As I reflect on the past year, I really reflect on the efforts that have been made, the journey we’re on, the transformation from tragedy to being a safer, stronger, better campus,” said Ruth Watkins, president of the University of Utah.
Lauren was shot and killed on campus by a man she had briefly dated after repeatedly calling police for help in the weeks leading up to her death.
In her first on-camera sit-down interview since Lauren’s death, Watkins offered her condolences to the McCluskey family and her assurance that the university takes responsibility for failures in responding to Lauren’s calls for help.
“The university has certainly acknowledged that we missed opportunities to help Lauren. The university has acknowledged, I have acknowledged, that we missed those opportunities and that there were weaknesses at the institution,” she said.
Earlier this year, Matt and Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s parents, filed a $56 million lawsuit against the University of Utah. They called it a “last resort” to get the U to take responsibility and hold people accountable.
“Firing people would have been the easy thing to do, but it would have been the wrong thing to do,” Watkins said. “I think it would not have fostered our goal of a safer campus. We needed action that enhanced safety immediately.”
And to that end, Watkins noted, they have spent $1 million to create a safer campus, through hiring people with needed expertise and providing new resources. The university has also completed 29 of the 30 recommended safety improvements listed in an independent review of the case. The remaining item is finding a place to re-locate the police department.
“(This) journey of cultural change and safety, it will take time,” said Watkins.
The university is moving forward. Watkins knows they need to rebuild trust among students, especially among the 100 students who walked out of class earlier this week to protest the U’s response to the McCluskey case and lawsuit.
“The university has faced understandable criticism and I think this journey of change, of enhancing safety, will take time, Watkins said. “I know that the increased presence of the university police and the increased expertise over time will help us win that trust back and rebuild confidence on our campus.”
Watkins says through this tragedy, the university is safer than it was a year ago.
“It is a safer and better place than it was a year ago, more aware place, and we will be a better place a year from now. This journey continues,” she said.