By DONOVAN HARRELL
Pitt’s leaders are re-examining safety and campus communications after Student Government Board President Harshitha Ramanan pleaded with University leaders to take students’ safety concerns more seriously.
In the Nov. 11 Senate Council Meeting, Ramanan said a recent incident, where a male individual is accused of attempting to “drape” a blanket around a student’s shoulders, has resurfaced concerns about campus safety.
Ramanan said “a number of female students on this campus have had encounters with this man” over the past two weeks.
Additionally, students living in South Oakland have been increasingly concerned with multiple incidents of a person supposedly trying to break into their homes. It’s not clear if the incidents are related.
Ramanan said details of these incidents have been shared in student group chats, Instagram stories and other forms of social media.
“And I know that our first instinct is supposed to be to report it to the police,” Ramanan said. “But realistically, we know that our reports are either going to be disregarded or take too long to get processed. I'm asking you to listen to me and the other 18,000 or so students who are telling you that we are afraid to walk home at night around our school because we are worried about getting raped, kidnapped and killed. But most of all, we are worried that no one is listening to us.”
Ramanan echoed her concerns at the Nov. 17 Student Admissions, Aid and Affairs committee meeting, where she also advocated for all faculty and staff to take up Lauren’s Promise.
Lauren’s Promise was created to honor its namesake, Lauren McCluskey — a student at the University of Utah who was murdered on campus in 2018 by a man she previously dated. McCluskey reportedly reached out to campus and city authorities seeking help before she was killed.
The Promise reads: “I will listen and believe you if someone is threatening you.”
The Student Government Board also passed a resolution in March calling for Lauren’s Promise to be added to syllabi.
Ramanan said during the SAAA committee meeting that she was bringing this issue up again because recently, “the amount of female students that came to me directly instead of going to someone that can do more than I can was a little alarming because they were coming to me and saying, ‘No one’s listening to me’ and they aren’t being taken seriously.”
Following Ramanan’s remarks at Senate Council, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said he’s aware of student safety concerns about this and other incidents and will work with Ramanan to address confusion about Pitt’s emergency report system. Senate Council President Robin Kear also offered support.
Gallagher assured meeting attendees that police officers are monitoring social media and have video footage of the blanket incident. The other potential incidents, he said, have not been reported to either the Pitt or city of Pittsburgh police.
“I was quite aware that this was also creating a lot of concerns in our student-dense areas and that we're aware of these multiple reports, but I just want to reassure you that is not being ignored, and it's very much an active police matter,” Gallagher said. “I think both Pitt police and city police are actively involved on this, but clearly, the level of concern that you shared with us and, in particular, questions about whether it's reflecting our commitment to supporting our students is of concern to me too.”
Gallagher also advised the Pitt community to download the Rave Guardian App, which allows people to contact police immediately and allows geolocation.
Multiple meeting attendees praised Ramanan for her remarks. Shilpa Sant, a co-chair for the Research Committee said that she did not receive any University communications about the blanket incident or any break-ins.
However, she said she’s seen comments about these incidents in a social media group, and that multiple students have told her they’ve also been seeing discussions about the incidents in their social media groups.
“I think there is a lot of concern about the communication among students,” Sant said. “Basically, they don’t know whether this is true, or if this is all rumor.”
Staff Council President Angie Coldren said she’d bring Ramadan’s concerns to group’s Staff Life committee.
“It’s something that’s very scary,” Coldren said, especially when the time changes and many people are walking to work and back to their cars in the evening in the dark.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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