San Juana Paramo
University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Public Safety released two safety alerts regarding incidents in Elmwood park in the past week. One detailed an anonymously reported sexual assault and the other and attempted assault/kidnapping.
Both safety reports included safety tips shared by the department, however, UNO students took concern with the language used and nature of the safety tips, saying the tips perpetuated victim blaming.
Sophomore Izabela Howell said she thinks safety tips were meant to remind students to be cautious, but feels the language was “semi degrading.”
“‘Always be aware of your surroundings, always walk in groups’ when in reality everybody that walks through Elmwood is always aware of their surroundings,” Howell said. “Although it says to walk in pairs, things still happen in pairs and I think it would have been less condescending if they would have just assumed that it’s not people not paying attention that got them in that position.”
Charlotte Evans, UNO Chief of Public Safety, said it “was not the departments intent to victim blame.”
“We can all forget how to stay safe or to think to employ safety suggestions,” Evans said. She said there is no requirement that says the safety tips UNO shares are the ones to use, but that UNO does so to remind people to stay safe.
Evans said the university disseminates timely warnings and emergency notifications in accordance to the Jeanne Clery Act. The Clery Act is a federal statute that requires college and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information, according to the Clery Center. The Act’s checklist for timely warnings, emergency notifications or evacuations doesn’t require institutions to include safety tips.
While students aren’t disputing the need for safety tips, it is also important to include language that is inclusive rather than language that places fault on the victim.
“I feel like it is good to have those tips out there but it’s also another thing entirely to have increased security, which UNO is always doing, and another thing to say that it’s not the students’ fault for getting attacked,” said Carli Tomack, UNO freshman. “That’s what they’re kind of making it seem, like it was their fault for not taking these precautions, it’s their fault for not doing everything they could not to be sexually assaulted or almost kidnapped which is entirely not the case.”
Evans said she is “not sure how to provide safety tips without appearing to blame,” but is open to changing the language used in the safety tips and is open to “sit down to form a committee with students” to change the language of the safety tips to not appear victim blaming.
Both Howell and Tomack agree Evans proposed committee with students would be beneficial in improving the safety tips.
Evans said she understands that sometimes students can’t walk in groups or use a cellphone when walking to appear like they’re talking to someone. She says the timely warnings and emergency notifications serve to notify the public of dangerous situations occurring on campus and to remind the public to employ the safety suggestions.
Evans mentioned the resources UNO and Public Safety are already employing in response to the incidents such as relaxing parking to provide students a safe place to park, increased patrols on campus and surrounding areas as well as escorts.
Howell says UNO needs to be aware that students are aware of their surroundings and that students know of incidents occurring on and off campus.
“Don’t assume the worst of people because obviously it’s not their fault they were just trying to get to their car, they were just trying to walk,” Howell said.
Tomack suggests increasing security options and resources in Elmwood, especially because the park is a connection between both campuses.
“[UNO] could have more resources out there where we could get help faster like help buttons, emergency buttons like we have on campus, that’s not always possible but that could help with the situation,” Tomack said.
The frustration expressed by students regarding the safety tips is warranted, but by being open to discussion, Evans is taking the first step in addressing the problem.