Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Recently, I’ve been involved in a little side project to determine safety measures implemented at Canadian universities. In part this was started when I discovered that no agency in Canada tracks information on how the many different colleges in Canada provide safety to students on campus. Last month a Campus Security Survey was sent out to women’s centers, security units, student newspapers and sexual harassment advisors at 35 of Canada’s most prominent universities. The response to date has been deafeningly silent.

Yes, yes, there some surveys came back, but mostly from schools that already have an established reputation for providing excellent security service. The University of British Columbia was one of the first to respond, and I would think they would be given that the school has an RCMP detachment maning their victim services unit on campus – the only one of its kind in Canada. The University of Calgary sent in their survey- why shouldn’t they? U of C has a security alert protocol program, security cameras in secluded locations such as parking lots and a 24-hr-a-day safewalk service; they are often cited as a model for campus safety.

There isn’t anything particularly objectionable in the survey. Most of the questions are pretty boiler plate, “where might we obtain a copy of your sexual harassment policy?”, “Does the school have a women’s centre?”.

So it’s the schools that don’t respond that give cause for worry. Or the ones that give poor excuses for not answering the questions:

I’ve passed this on to our security department. There are concerns about what

this information is being collected for, who will have access to it, whether

or not it is being collected so solicit business, etc.

Yeah, well, even if I was in the business of selling a better security camera, this concern is irrelevant. It’s public information; universities don’t have the right to withhold it.

Some of the replies have been down right scary. Witness the following answer from a student volunteer at a women’s centre located at a major western university:

I’m just answering this one question because I’m really mad about what

happened:

6. Does the school have a notification protocol? That is, if an assault occurs

on campus, does notification go out to the campus community in a timely fashion?

NO!! I had to find out on the news AFTER THEY CAUGHT HIM that a student had Raped SEVERAL WOMEN right on campus, and I’m disgusted by the fact that campus security didn’t believe this to be something every woman on campus should have been warned about.

This seems to pinpoint the crux of the problem. In essence, there always seem to be two depictions of violence on campus; the impressions of the students versus that of administration, and the security forces that act on their behalf. Students often see violence on campus as being a much greater problem than do campus security. In part, this can be attributed to the problem that, in some cases, students don’t wish to file official reports with campus security. They will tell their friends, but are reluctant to “officially” disclose the information. So these “stories” become innuendo and hearsay, compared with the hard-line facts provided to security units.

Some campuses, such as the University of British Columbia, have began to explore the option of 3rd party reporting. That is, involving an outside agency to compile the information, rather than student run centres or administration run security services, both of which have a perceived bias.

Meanwhile the work of collecting information on campus security goes on. It is my desire that if enough Universities participate, there can be an apples-to-apples comparison of all universities and their safety programs. Only then might suggestions be made for a best practices system for security at all Canadian university campuses.

Stay tuned.

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