Student groups respond to crime alerts

Students warn to be careful about victim blaming when teaching safety.

by Hailey Colwell

University of Minnesota students are turning to their student groups to start discussions about safety after the recent bout of campus crime.

Students are tackling these discussions in ways that fit their groups’ communities — from advising on how to stay safe during commutes to planning self-defense workshops. One group is concerned the crime alerts sent to the University community after certain incidents might not accurately depict sexual violence.

Because commuters spend a lot of time in transit between campus and home, the student group Commuter Connection has been advising its students to stay alert while standing at bus stops and walking home, group co-chair Leah VandenBosch said.

Alliance for Women in Media President Christina Munnell said her group has walked together after meetings in an effort to stay safe.

Student Unions and Activities Associate Director Denny Olsen said SUA is trying to make sure everyone who attends its events knows about campus safety resources. It also sent safety information to individual student groups, he said.

“We’re just helping to make sure student groups have information and resources,” Olsen said, “and generally just supporting what the police department [and] University Services are already doing.”

Concerns about victim blaming

The crime alerts sent to the University community after certain incidents are sparking conversations about the message they’re sending to students.

Some are concerned that the alerts proliferate victim blaming — or holding the victim of a crime partially responsible for the harm that occurred.

In response to the recent string of crimes, the student group Women’s Student Activist Collective plans to hold a self-defense workshop early next semester, group staff member Carla Wilson said.

The group held a similar workshop in the past, she said, but some were concerned that it, too, could involve victim blaming.

Tim Busse, communications director for University Services, which houses the University of Minnesota Police Department and sends out the alerts, said the messages aim to keep students safe.

Busse, who writes the alerts, said he works closely with University police officers.

As more alerts have gone out in the past few weeks, he said, there have been discussions about what kind of information to include and how to communicate it.

The topic of victim blaming figured into that discussion, Busse said.

“We want to make it clear we’re not blaming the victims and don’t have any intention of doing that, but at the same time … there needs to be a culture of safety, and it needs to be embraced community-wide,” he said.

WSAC member Mollie Lacy said the crime alerts deliver useful information but might paint a misleading picture of sexual violence.

Because most sexual assaults happen when the attacker and victim know each other, she said, recent alerts about sexual assaults on campus might give students the idea that these attacks are more likely to be random.

Lacy said she thinks it would be beneficial to provide students with more information about sexual assault and resources for survivors.

“You’re presenting this information in a vacuum, and so you’re not given the larger context of what sexual assault is like for most survivors,” she said.

Lacy said the alerts insinuate that students will be safe if they stay inside after dark.

“It presents rape as this crime that only happens to women walking alone at night, and that’s not true,” she said.

The alerts contain a limited amount of information so that they’re easier to read, Busse said, and include information about resources like Gopher Chauffeur and campus escort services.

To provide more detailed information, Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock started sending out public safety updates last week.

The updates will branch out to include other information pertinent to students and could potentially include resources for victims in the future, Busse said.