@Unsafe.U Instagram Account Organizes Student Protest


“Utah schools need to remain safe, and hopefully, it will inspire the rest of the country to follow.” (Photo by Victoria Hills | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Victoria Hills, News Writer

Early on the afternoon of Oct. 21, a group of almost 100 students gathered at the steps of the Park Building in President’s Circle to protest campus safety policies they feel are ineffective. Track athlete Lauren McCluskey was murdered on campus almost exactly one year ago on Oct. 22, 2018. Two years ago, ChenWei Guo, a Chinese international student, was murdered on campus on October 30, 2019. October has been proclaimed SafeU month on campus.

Organizers of the @unsafe.u social media pages led the protest, which began as a student walkout at 11:30 a.m. “We wanted to show that there are a lot of students across campus that still feel unsafe for a variety of reasons,” said Devon Cantwell, a Ph.D. student in Political Science, ASUU Senator and one of the protest’s organizers. “We thought it would be really powerful to bring students from a lot of different experiences interacting with administration and with safety issues to give some statements.” Several ASUU senators, U alumni and other student leaders held the attention and the hearts of students who gathered to hear their peers and empathize with their cause.


Students gather outside of the Park building for the protest. (Photo by Victoria Hills | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Student Submissions

Students who left their classes to attend the protest first heard submissions from students on experiences when they had felt unsafe on campus. Similar stories can be found on the @unsafe.u Instagram account.

“I’ve had really heinous experiences with the OEO [Office of Equal Opportunity] and Dean’s office at the U,” one story read. “I was in an abusive relationship with another student … They gave me a no-contact directive that they poorly managed and refused to further investigate to actually serve disciplinary consequences to my abuser.

“I was forced to be in every single one of my classes with my abuser for an entire year. It was probably more traumatizing than the abuse itself to have been so easily dismissed by the people I thought were supposed to protect me.”

Another story read by the organizers said, “My freshman year, a friend told me that she had tried to take her life. That night, she disappeared … I called UPD [University Police Department]. When the officer arrived, he said, ‘She’s probably in the stairwell making out with some boy, go back to your dorm.’

“He made me walk back to my dorm alone at 3 a.m. and dismissed everything that I told him.”

Brooke Martin, senior track and field athlete, was a friend and teammate of Lauren McCluskey who spoke on her experience reporting to UPD with Lauren a year ago, “I was with her when she submitted those reports.” She referred to the U’s response to reports from McCluskey and others as “security theater.” Her speech included a call to administrators: “I stand here today to demand change, so every student can go through their routine without desperately fearing that it will be their last time.”

Another story criticized the U for not promoting the victim-survivor advocates resource on campus.

Another story criticized the U for not promoting available options for people on campus. “The U doesn’t inform the campus about the resources for interpersonal violence through Victim-Survivor Advocates.”

On the same day as the protest, Lori McDonald, Vice President of Student Affairs, co-led a Community U open house at Post Chapel to create an open space to grieve and acknowledge victims of interpersonal violence. When asked about resources for victims of interpersonal violence on campus, she said, “Our Center for Student Wellness has Victim-Survivor Advocates, who are trained and available for anyone experiencing interpersonal violence,” she said. These Advocates teach victims more about their rights and where they can report.

“It’s a confidential resource,” she said. “That’s the primary resource I would hope that all students would know about.”


Student speakers for Unsafe.U. (Photo by Victoria Hills | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Unsafe.U Organizers’ Call to Action

In the final moments of the protest, student leaders made several calls to action, including advocating for reform within UPD that represented all of campus community fairly. They stressed the need for UPD officers to have a more personal relationship with students on campus. “Policing only works if you have a relationship with your community. There’s no relationship with UPD.”

“Can any of you name an officer by name? I can’t,” one leader said.


Policy Changes

On the morning of the protest, student leaders of Unsafe.U met with campus administration, including McDonald, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed, and communications specialist Brooke Adams to present their demands. Such demands included facets on accountability, transparency and resources. Cantwell shared that U administrators found two of their demands easiest to be implemented — the student advisory board for SafeU websites and the safety dashboard. However, the administration also said some of UnsafeU’s demands were “impossible.”

“We’re curious about what those are,” Cantwell said.

She and her co-organizers are planning for a follow up meeting with administration in the next month. They plan to release full project plans for all their demands by February 2020, “to show students exactly what steps that need to be in place for each of those demands.”


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