Thursday, August 12, 2021

On Aug. 11, the University of Iowa’s Reimagining Campus Safety Action Committee delivered its findings and recommendations for the future of public safety on campus to President Barbara Wilson.

The report includes three key findings from more than a year of gathering data and conversations with the campus community:

  • The current campus safety systems are not effective for many UI students, particularly the most vulnerable. Students across all classifications (undergraduate, graduate, and professional) experience the current structures of safety and policing differently than faculty and staff, and are more likely to report feeling unsafe around campus and around UI police.
  • Additional investment in mental health and support for basic needs is essential to student success. All students, faculty, and staff said they support increasing financial resources for mental health, well-being, and basic needs, as well as increasing funding for departments such as the Cultural Centers that support Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC); those that serve disabled members of the campus community; and those that serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer, intersex, allies and/or asexual (LGBTQIA+) members of the campus community.
  • Additional accountability and transparency processes are needed for UI Department of Public Safety (UIDPS). The committee found that nationally or locally recommended practices were nearly always already in place within UIDPS, often for years. However, the local community did not know about them or perceive them as effective. This disconnect speaks to a need for additional transparency and ongoing communication between UIDPS and campus stakeholders and supports creating a feedback and accountability structure, anchored at the UI leadership level.

In response to these findings, the report includes the following recommendations:

  • Provide non-law enforcement response options for mental health, basic needs, crisis intervention, and follow-up.
  • Invest in holistic safety services, including mental health, case management, well-being, and basic needs.
  • Create a Presidential Campus Safety and Accountability Board that includes marginalized campus members and representatives of shared governance, as well as the broader UI community. The group will solicit ongoing feedback, identify metrics and measures of success, communicate concerns and recommendations, and facilitate a transparent sharing of information with the UI community.
  • Create an implementation and assessment team charged with enacting the recommendations made by the committee and monitoring progress.

Several initiatives are already underway to support the findings of the committee. The Division of Student Life recently created a staff position to support student basic needs, including the Food Pantry and Clothing Closet. A student care manager, funded by the UI Department of Public Safety, will soon be embedded in Student Care and Assistance to provide follow-up services for students who have had law enforcement contact, crisis intervention, or hospitalization. Additionally, during the fall 2021 semester the UI will partner with CommUnity Crisis Services in Iowa City to provide 24/7/365 after-hours mental health assistance phone and text support for all students.

“The report and recommendations are the result of the varied perspectives, experiences, and priorities each of the committee members brought to the table,” says Sarah Hansen, vice president for student life and chair of the committee. “I am grateful for their commitment to this process and am proud of the work that has been done to improve public safety on the University of Iowa campus.”

The full report outlines short-term actions that will begin to address recommendations, as well as details processes and constraints.

President Wilson will share next steps with the campus community.

“I very much appreciate the comprehensive and thoughtful work of the committee,” says Wilson. “My immediate takeaway is that several of the action steps will enhance campus safety and also improve access to mental health services during times of crisis. I want our university to be a leader in these areas and I am confident we can be.”

In June 2020, the university announced the formation of the Reimagining Campus Safety Committee, which was charged with answering these and other questions:

  • What are the essential elements of a safe and inclusive campus?
  • What policies, practices, and organizational structures are needed to provide the essential elements of a safe and inclusive campus?
  • Who should perform the various duties associated with a safe and inclusive campus?

The committee also was asked to identify strategies, tactics, and timelines for creating a campus community that supports the safety of all individuals, with particular attention to people who have traditionally experienced disproportionate harm from systems such as law enforcement.

The group included members with a range of viewpoints, roles, and professions. Members include undergraduate and graduate students; staff with expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion, threat assessment, and student success; shared governance representatives; the UI Department of Public Safety; and faculty members with research expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion, policing of communities of color, deliberative dialogues, and organizational change.