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College responds to student concerns on safety

 

Vollmer residents gathered for a floor meeting Thursday night to discuss thoughts, questions and concerns on the reported incidents and campus safety. -Kendall Erenberger/TRUMPET

A series of events took place Feb. 2-4 that sparked campus-wide concerns.

Several students reported incidents to security which were later found to be connected. These incidents, which included burglary, trespassing and indecent assault, occurred in Vollmer and Grossmann Halls.

John Myers, director of campus security and safety, said in an email sent out to the student body that campus security received the first report of an unknown male entering a first-floor bathroom in Vollmer Hall in the early morning hours of Saturday, Feb. 3.

“The suspect turned out the lights and approached the shower but fled when the woman screamed,” Myers said.

While the college believed this was an “isolated incident” that “did not require campus-wide communication,” Myers said after more reports were made it became evident that students should be made aware of the situation.

“Sunday morning, beginning at around 7:30 a.m., several more reports of a man entering the shower and rooms in Grossmann Hall were reported,” Myers said.

Myers added that no one was physically assaulted in any of the shower incidents, but three women reported they woke up in their rooms to the suspect touching either their thigh or buttocks. Cash was also reported stolen.

The college began working with local law enforcement to identify a suspect and gather any necessary evidence.

Dr. Dan Kittle, vice president for student life and dean of students, said that shortly after gathering statements, the college was able to leverage actionable evidence.

“We participated and cooperated in that aspect of the investigation which is one of the reasons why he was on the campus for a few more hours than he would have been otherwise, had it not been a police matter,” Kittle said. “The police did their interview, which we participated in together with our director of campus security and safety.”

Kittle said as soon as the interview concluded, the college served the student in question with a notice of interim ban and suspension from the college, waited until he packed his bags and escorted him off campus.

Myers said many people thought that he was allowed to return to campus Tuesday night, but that was determined to be a case of mistaken identity.

In response to the events, Wartburg president Dr. Darrel Colson emailed the student body on Tuesday.

Colson thanked everyone who stepped forward to report the incidents.

“That step takes great courage, and you are to be commended,” Colson said.

Colson also thanked those who provided additional information that helped the college’s team identify the suspect as well as the campus community for supporting one another.

“The safety and security of the community depend upon each of you to take such action: to report incidents, to provide information that fills gaps in what is known and to support one another,” Colson said.

In order to “continue the conversation” and address any questions and concerns students had, Kittle held a Wartburg CHATS session on Tuesday, which over 200 students attended.

Kittle said some of the main concerns students had were in regards to the facts of the case and what happened when, the timing of the letter Kittle had initially sent out to the student body, the follow-up and what the college was doing to identify and remove the suspect and what the college is doing in general to ensure student safety.

“I had a lot of comments and ideas I took notes on and my colleagues took notes on. Some of those ideas included things like expanding the camera program, putting locks on bathroom doors and making changes to the lighting systems in the bathrooms,” Kittle said. “Those are ideas that I take seriously and that we will follow up to deeply consider which of those are going to be the most effective to address the issues of campus safety.”

During the conversation, students asked that the college communicate more often and as timely as possible, Kittle said.

Although the college does have a Wartburg Alert system that can easily notify students of any dangers via email or text, it was not used in response to these incidents.

Kittle said this would be a good way to communicate more to students for specific incidents.

“We utilize it in situations where we feel like students are in immediate danger. Those situations would be, you know, if there is a tornado or if there is an active shooter, but I heard from students and I accept their critique that they’d like to maybe see that utilized more often,” Kittle said.

When incidents happen and don’t receive a Wartburg Alert, the college has a plan in place to notify students.

“We’d still like to communicate those incidents and that is something that we actually have in place through the Community Response Team,” Kittle said. “That team has been in place now for several months and we consider how we need to respond to the community and what we need to communicate. I know students will see additional communications of that nature come from the Community Response Team.”

Although it is still in the process of being put up, the Community Response Team will report information on incidents that do not pose an immediate threat to students on a website. Kittle gave the example of a racial slur on campus, which he said does not pose a physical danger but is something the community should know has happened.

Kittle said he felt the CHAT was productive, but he recognizes there was a large number of students who left unsatisfied.

“That is why the conversation will continue and that’s why at the end, I invited students who want to me with me one-on-one or have me meet with a group. I am happy to do that because the conversation does need to continue,” Kittle said.

As another way to “continue the conversation,” all campus Residential Assistants were briefed on the information surrounding the events and were urged to meet with their floors to answer any questions or address any specific concerns.

Myers encourages everyone to continue to be vigilant of their surroundings and report any suspicious activities to Campus Security at 352-8372 or in an emergency dial 9999.

 

 

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