By Brian Wagenaar
Warning: This article contains mention of sensitive topics, including references to instances of racially based hatred.
This past fall, student safety concerns became prominent following vehicle break-ins, smashed Western building windows, and racially motivated incidents. These concerns have been recurring over the last several years, notes Western Student Government Association (SGA) President Miriam Olvera.
In Nov. 2019, security and safety issues became personal for Western student David Hussman, whose truck window was smashed outside Chipeta Apartments. David’s story is indicative of a broader property damage issue, with numerous vehicles around the Chipeta Apartments having their windows smashed last fall.
Hussman says that, as an incoming freshman, he likely would’ve had privacy concerns about security cameras. Now, having experienced a break-in, he wants to see cameras on campus, as well as associated messaging explaining the benefit to students.
Student Senator Paige Rumery notes that, while some students have voiced privacy concerns, she believes that achieving a balance is possible. She adds that, while cameras and lighting may not deter vandalism and theft, they contribute to a culture that values student safety, and increases the odds of apprehending perpetrators.
When Hussman went to SGA last fall, Student Senator Kaleb Pedrie was a ready advocate. Senator Pedrie drafted a statement to convey the views of SGA on behalf of Western students. A portion of that statement reads “SGA finds campus security and safety to be an inherent obligation of the administration and we do not feel that the burden of this issue should rest on the shoulders of the associated student body.”
This language was intended to contradict the notion that SGA should shoulder the cost for enhanced security. Multiple SGA members have noted that Campus Security Director Nathan Kubes has floated the idea of utilizing SGA funds in meetings with SGA.
SGA’s statement calls for an increase to both the quality and quantity of campus lighting, as well as camera installations in parking lots and high-traffic areas. Senator Pedrie notes that the statement was intentionally worded strongly, adding “I made a demand on behalf of the student body to improve safety and security measures by the end of the school year, or at least to have a plan in place.”
The statement acknowledges that issues of campus safety impact specific groups of students disproportionately, most notably with students of color, women, and the LGBT+ community. Just recently, a swastika drawn in the Women’s Student Lounge and the egging of a group of Black students highlight bigotry on campus that contributes to Western students feeling excluded and unsafe.
A new concern for student safety comes with the unveiling of the Strategic Resource Allocation (SRA) recommendations. The SRA is poised to slash the Security Department’s budget more than $94,000, to “streamline and eliminate redundancies and reorganize departmental activities to better serve the needs of the campus community.”
The Security Department ranked in SRA’s Tier 5, the lowest tier. Currently, the lack of a tangible Security Department presence is clear, with multiple SGA members unclear where Kubes’ office is located. Meanwhile, Western students await administrative action to improve campus safety and security.