Case Western Students, Faculty Talk Public Safety Concerns in Wake of Steve Stephens Manhunt

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click to enlarge Case Western Students, Faculty Talk Public Safety Concerns in Wake of Steve Stephens Manhunt

Maya Monroe grew up in Blacksburg, Va., home to Virginia Tech. This past Easter Sunday marked 10 years to the day after the massacre that killed dozens in her hometown. She’s now a student at Case Western Reserve University, and she's confronting her school’s failure to send a timely safety alert in the aftermath of Steve Stephens’ murder of Robert Godwin Sr. — an aftermath that included some fear and paranoia as police searched for the killer.

The April 16 shooting and subsequent manhunt took place near the Case campus, but, Monroe argues, the school delayed in joining institutions like the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals in sounding an alarm.

click to enlarge Case Western Students, Faculty Talk Public Safety Concerns in Wake of Steve Stephens Manhunt
A member of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) sent out the first notification on Sunday to her fellow reps: a screenshot of the 3:58 p.m. police report. She brought her safety concerns to Case administrators, who agreed that students should be notified of the details to eliminate confusion, but at the time were reportedly not intending to send out an alert.

As discussions with campus administrators stalled and the minutes ticked on, student government members deliberated using their own listserv to notify the thousands of undergraduates on campus. At 5:33 p.m., CWRU students received an email reading “ATTENTION: Stay Indoors," linking to the Cleveland Division of Police’s update page. The action was unprecedented.

At 6:03 p.m., the university sent out its own email, and 15 minutes later a text alert referred students back to their inboxes. The email was unsigned and had not been sent through the RAVE alert system, but rather some sort of listserv.

The Athenian, the university’s humor magazine, quickly scrutinized the situation: “While reports from other institutions, such as Cleveland State University or Nicki Minaj, had been located within minutes of the story breaking at around 4 p.m., it would be not until 6:04 p.m. that the security alert was finally located in students’ inboxes.”

And so Monroe was feeling uneasy as the hours and days ticked by, knowing now how her school would address a public safety matter.

She stood facing off with administrators at a protest on Tuesday; students gathered in front of the Kelvin Smith Library to condemn the delay in communicating the ramifications of the city’s eastside manhunt. Monroe held up a sign that read, "This snowflake is melting in anger."

“I was quoted on the article about the failed notification because I posted a fairly angry rant to the university’s Facebook page, and people commented that I was a ‘snowflake,’” she says. “I figured I’d just embrace it."

While more than 200 students had expressed interest in the Facebook event, a little more than a dozen came out to protest. Afterward, many shuffled into the Undergraduate Student Government’s General Assembly (GA), where Case administrators joined campus police chief Jay Hodge.

It became clear after questioning from the student body that University Marketing and Communications had been contacted and were responsible for sending out an alert on Sunday. The university implored students’ trust, saying that they were willing to improve the system of alerts, step of the availability of Safe Rides and offer more ALICE training classes, which prepare students and staff for active shooter situations.

The decision not to send out an alert was attributed to justifications within the Clery Act, which requires universities to send out notification of criminal activity or potentially have their Title IX funding revoked.

The Clery Act defines a campus as the property and buildings owned by a college or university — but also public and private property which “is frequently used by students, and supports institutional purposes.” Andrew Thompson, a protest organizer and USG representative, pointedly asked Case’s marketing VP, Chris Sheridan, “Would you see it fair to characterize that as doing the literal bare minimum required by law?” Sheridan quickly acknowledged that Sunday’s shooting would not fall under the law’s requirements, noting, however, that Steve Stephens did at the time represent a "clear and present danger."

“By structuring the entire conversation around the Clery Act, it feels to me at times like the university is more concerned about keeping that Title IX funding and keeping its brand as a competitive university and keeping itself marketable to potential students,” said Kinsey Roberts, an employee of the university and double alumnus. “It involves a bit of sweeping things under the rug, controlling how the message gets out.”

After the GA meeting, protest organizer Tim Nicholas said, “By and large, I found that the administration was apologetic, but a phrase that was often used a lot ... was ‘It was bad judgement.’ and to me that's not a really satisfactory answer. It does not justify your inaction.”

However, Nicholas was largely happy with the GA. “If I could say in one word, I left GA hopeful," he said. "I was overall pleased with the administration's response — that they admitted responsibility and that they’re willing to work together.” He and other students will meet with administrators to decide on action steps. Nicholas says the plan is to present the result as a resolution to be voted on in next week’s GA.

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