By Steven Viera || Senior Editor
Last Monday, Nov. 2, the College hosted a panel discussion to address the recent assaults on campus against students by non-students. The panel, which was held in Stahr Auditorium in Stager Hall, was attended by 25 people: 19 students and six members of the administration, not including the members of the panel.
Dan Porterfield, president of the College, opened the discussion with a brief lecture in which he raised a number of issues—such as the need for individuals to examine and change their own behavior in order to stay safe, the need to deter potential offenders in the future, and the need to reevaluate the ways in which the community describes suspects—that he hoped would be addressed during the forum. He then introduced the members of the panel: Margaret Hazlett, dean of the College; Dave Proulx, vice president for Finance and Administration; and William McHale, director of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
After brief remarks by Hazlett, McHale described the nature of the assaults.
In the first incident, a male student walking on campus at night was approached by a young male who shoved the student, causing the student’s glasses to cut the bridge of his nose and knocking him to the ground, before the male ran off. Another male then approached the student, asking if he was okay, before attempting to steal the fallen student’s backpack. With the student chasing after them, the two males ran off-campus. In fact, according to camera footage and a witness’ report, there was actually a third male.
In the second incident, two young males made comments to a female student walking on campus at night. The males grabbed the student, who resisted, and the males ran off.
McHale explained that DPS has increased on-campus presence and is coordinating with the Lancaster City Bureau of Police (LCBP) to investigate these crimes, which may or may not be related. He noted that in his three years at F&M, he has never seen any incidents like these before, and there may not be much reason behind their sudden occurrence.
“It’s just the nature of the beast,” he said.
Additionally, McHale discussed a glitch with the College’s timely warning system that caused one of the community-wide messages about the assault to be delayed. He noted that the system— which is tested quarterly— functioned properly during the last test, but that a glitch inhibited a message from going out following one of the assaults. During his explanation, on top of his discussion of the glitch itself, he stressed the difficulty of meaningfully communicating information about an incident in a short text message.
McHale also addressed the rumor that F&M’s blue light system is not working, stating that while some blue lights may be out of order, the system itself is online; he then encouraged students to report any blue lights that are not working to DPS as soon as possible. According to McHale, there are about 80 blue light terminals on and around campus.
Proulx discussed measured being taken in response to the assaults, such as adding temporary lighting to make campus brighter at night. He also discussed the extensive surveillance system at F&M, with 118 cameras in and around campus, and potential gaps in its coverage.
“We don’t have any on the main areas of campus, such as Williamson Parking Lot or Hartman Green,” he pointed out.
Following commentary from the panelists, students and other members of the audience had the opportunity to pose questions, offer suggestions, and voice opinions. Students asked questions such as what routes on campus are the safest to use, how to be cautious when walking at night, whether or not the description of the assailants created a culture of fear around residents of Lancaster City, and more.
A number of questions focused on the role of race in the description of the assailants, which characterized them as “African-American.” A number of students questioned if this description had benefits for identifying and catching the perpetrators or if it was too prejudicial and functioned as a form of profiling.
“Quite honestly, the verbiage [in the descriptions] was bad, so we have to address that,” McHale said in response. “If we see someone acting suspiciously, we’re not looking at his skin color.”
Students proposed ideas such as expanding late night shuttle service, including the number of routes available and ensuring that shuttles stop to pick up students; giving students fob access to all College Houses at night so that they can enter a building if they feel unsafe; increasing partnerships with the community, like the Lancaster City Alliance and their Bike Ambassadors; and more.
To report a crime, suspicious activity, or to call for help if feeling unsafe, students should contact DPS at (717)-291-3939 or download the LiveSafe app for additional resources.
Senior Steven Viera is a Senior Editor. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.