By: Bailey Hendricks, Editor-in-Chief
Students filed into the crowded Chesapeake Ballrooms in the Union for a campus forum Oct. 1 to discuss the University’s recent sexual assault and hate-bias incidents.
A Towson student was arrested Sept. 22 after allegedly raping another student in Marshall Hall, according to Baltimore County Police officials. On Sept. 29 a male “grabbed a woman’s breast in the University Union” around 8:43 p.m., according to the Towson University Police Department. And a hate-bias incident occurred at a Towson home football game Sept. 7, according to videos circulating social media.
The forum, hosted by Schatzel in collaboration with the Student Government Association, was held so “our community can come together, listen, discuss, and support each other,” according to Schatzel’s Sept. 30 campus-email inviting the TU community to the event. Schatzel’s Presidential address, originally scheduled for Thursday was postponed “to ensure my focus is there, on Tuesday and the steps that come afterward,” according to Schatzel’s campus-wide email.
“Tonight is the beginning of listening more,” said Schatzel “One sexual assault, one sexual harassment, one hate-bias. One is too many to occur.”
Leah Cox, the Vice President for Inclusion and Institutional Equity established the tone for the night by asking students to be respectful of those who may share stories on sensitive topics.
“This is a campus community conversation that we want to have,” she said. “And so, we want everyone attending to feel comfortable, that they will be heard, that they can share, that we are going to listen, and that you will share respectfully.”
Students were invited to ask questions and provide comments through microphones following the introduction of admin who were there to answer questions and facilitate the conversation.
During the forum, students expressed concerns about the lack of transparency in making students aware about sexual assault and hate-bias incidents, issues with not enough resources in the counseling center, and concern about police and security presence on campus.
Students suggested support groups for survivors of sexual assault, self-defense classes, mandatory hate-bias trainings, trigger warnings, sexual assault awareness training for faculty and staff, among other things.
One student asked administration why there was not a more immediate response regarding the recent sexual assaults on campus.
“I should have responded more quickly than I did,” said Schatzel. “I’m sorry I let the community down. We can do better.”
Other students voiced concerns about general campus safety. Students were concerned about the lack of police presence on campus and the lack of blue TUPD telephones in certain locations on campus, such as 10 West Burke Avenue, a residence hall.
Students also expressed concerns over campus security. Security guards man the desks of residence halls during late night hours. The current security guards are hired from the company Abacus Corporation. Students said they have seen security guards asleep at the desk several times. Another student said they had witnessed security guards playing video games.
However, Police Chief Joe Herring said that the University is currently in the process of finding a new company to provide residence hall security due to dissatisfaction with Abacus.
“That contract is currently out for bid right now because we were dissatisfied with the job that Abacus was doing,” Herring said. “We’re actively reviewing the bids to hire a new contractor.”
Herring also told the audience that the app SaferMobility allows students to dispatch to the police station and the station can see what the app user’s phone sees.
Other resources provided to the students during the forum included the Counseling Center’s reserved crisis appointments. Because routine therapy intakes are currently two weeks out, the University has reserved spaces for students going through a crisis daily.
Some students were still dissatisfied with the Counseling Center’s wait times, though. Suggesting a 24-hour hotline for crises needing immediate attention like panic attacks.
During the forum, University staff members took notes of student concern. Cox expressed that there will be more forums in the future to continue the conversation after a recommendation from a student to do so.
“We’ve heard the fact that there’s not enough officers that are on the ground walking around, not profiling, but providing support,” Schatzel said. “That we need to be able to take a look at whether or not that we have increased security that doesn’t fall asleep or play video games in the places that we have. That we have to take a look at an escort or some type of system.”
Students were concerned about the University following up and addressing their concerns. Schatzel ensured students that their concerns would be addressed “as soon as possible.”
“What I’d like to make sure is that there’s clear accountability for the ‘when’ and that has been heard,” Schatzel said. “So what I want to be able to do is to have us work through SGA and their assembly to be able to have the fact that what we’ve heard is documented and that we all agree those are the priorities and that we set a plan in place to be able to do that.”
Freshman Cache Taylor thought the forum was productive overall, but hoped for more direct answers from the University administration.
“I believe there were good topics that were brought up,” Taylor said. “Sometimes we [got the answers we wanted], but “I feel like a lot of this was repetitive and they were sugar-coating a lot of things. And I feel like they could have went into more detail and could have actually shown interest.”
Emily Hinton, the victim of the Sept. 7 hate-bias incident at the Towson home-opener football game, expressed her concern about the reporting of hate-bias incidents.
“I feel like that’s what happens a lot with these types of instances,” she said. “People feel like they can’t speak up for themselves, and I can see exactly why.”
SGA President Naimah Kargbo invited students to use SGA as a resource and source of support.
“If you feel administration doesn’t care, I do,” said Kargbo. “My door is open and we will make sure that this work gets done.”
– Alex Best contributed to this article.