(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University held two forums last month to discuss campus safety after a sexual assault took place near Campus Walk, an apartment complex on the edge of campus that is home to many Winthrop students.
On Feb. 15 at 6:02 a.m., a campus-wide WU Alert was sent to students, faculty and staff informing them of the assault.
“I was concerned whether the person involved was okay. Also whether if I knew that person, because I knew people that had been out that same night,” said Jada Givens, a Winthrop student and Campus Walk resident.
A number of students emailed President Dan Mahony expressing their concerns about safety and security on and around campus throughout the week following the incident.
As a result, Mahony sent an email to the Winthrop community inviting them to the forums Feb. 25 and 26 in the Richardson Ballroom, in order to answer questions, share suggestions and discuss how officials are addressing the safety issues.
“We want to share some safety information and updates we have,” said Shelia Higgs Burkhalter, vice president for student affairs at Winthrop, who acted as the mediator at the forums.
“We also want to engage in a community dialogue regarding the concerns that the student has expressed from social media or directly to the president or to a variety of different forums within the past week,” she said.
Mahony and representatives from Facilities Management, Information Technology, Health & Counseling Services, the Office of Victims Assistance, Campus Police and the Rock Hill Police Department were present at the forums to talk about how they contribute to campus safety.
Wes Wiles, assistant chief of Campus Police, said Winthrop offers students a number of services related to safety.
“We offer the LiveSafe app, we offer escort services, we have blue emergency phones all through campus, over 40 of them. I mean those types of safety measures, programming and just visible patrols. That is going to continue on our part,” said Wiles.
However, Ken Scoggins, chief of Campus Police, said the escort services should only be used when students feel unsafe.
“It’s a safety insecurity issue. What I mean by that…the escort service that we provide to all students, it is intended for safety insecurities only,” said Scoggins.
However, Winthrop is working to make improvements. Recently, Facilities Management replaced a light fixture that a student expressed concerns about at the forum.
Givens said, however, she thinks the safety improvements won’t happen as quickly as some may want.
“It will be a gradual change, it’s not going to be something that can happen instantly. There will be change, but it’s not going to happen right now when students want it,” said Givens.
Burkhalter said the administration is doing its part to improve campus safety, but strongly encouraged students to help when they can.
“While there is a lot that the people here can do, there is a lot we can do individually and collectively to keep our campus and community safe,” said Burkhalter.
“Be aware of your surroundings at all times. When you pull into a parking lot you should be looking around you, paying attention to what is going on around you,” said Detective Robert Smith, with the Rock Hill Police Department.
Additionally, Campus Walk held a community safety meeting Feb. 21 to discuss resident safety after the assault.
Rob Stinson, a captain with Rock Hill police, told the group he is constantly in contact with officials at Campus Walk and Winthrop to discuss safety.
“We meet once a quarter with Chief Wiles, myself…we talk about safety and security for Campus Walk,” he said.