After beginning with the usual excitement that a new school year brings, the Michigan Student Assembly’s first meeting last night took a somber tone as it addressed recent crime alerts on campus.
The meeting, held in the MSA Chambers in the Michigan Union, featured guest presentations by the assembly’s Student Safety Commission and the director of the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. The presentations come in the wake of a number of crimes on and near campus, including six assaults in July and two unarmed robberies in the past week.
Student Safety Commission Chairs Josh Buoy and Stephanie Hamel, both LSA students, presented a new program called Beyond the Diag — an effort to disseminate information to students about off-campus safety measures. The commission’s work included passing out safety literature with Department of Public Safety Executive Director Greg O’Dell and Ann Arbor Police Department Chief Barnett Jones during Welcome Week.
The goal of Beyond the Diag is to identify and focus on specific off-campus residential neighborhoods to create a sense of community in these areas, Buoy explained. According to Buoy, three-quarters of the student population lives off campus.
“We want to create (a) neighborhood feel in these areas because we believe that if students feel safer, they will act safer,” he said.
The commission plans to hire neighborhood ambassadors for each off-campus housing area who will serve a similar role as resident advisors in the residence halls. In addition to establishing Facebook and Twitter pages, the Student Safety Commission plans to print monthly newsletters with information relevant to off-campus communities.
“The idea here is to offer student-generated content, not just things that the University puts out that seem as rather fluffy or uninformative to student concerns,” Buoy said.
He concluded his presentation by explaining that the new program was not put forth in response to the six assaults — four of which were sexual assaults — that occurred in July, but that the incidents prove the project is necessary.
“Something important to note, being student leaders here, is that this program was initiated before the summer sexual assaults,” he said. “This is not a direct response to those sexual assaults. This is more a long-term proactive measure that we believe will lead to a safer campus here at Michigan.”
Following the presentation of Beyond the Diag, SAPAC Director Holly Rider-Milkovich took the floor. She explained the assaults that happened this summer were carried out by people who did not know the survivors. She called stranger assaults “anomalous to the community,” explaining that the majority of perpetrators who commit sexual assaults know the survivors. To more effectively reach students, SAPAC is currently restructuring its programming.
“One of the things that we discovered was that SAPAC was not presenting the most effective programming that we could,” Rider-Milkovich said. “We were doing a lot of rape awareness, but what we discovered was that that type of programming was totally ineffective so what we’re doing instead is … promote the kind of activities that we would like to see, and that’s all about healthy relationship promotion.”
MSA President DeAndree Watson said student safety will remain a top priority for the assembly.
“We invited (SAPAC and Beyond the Diag) because we know that a lot of students have come to campus concerned about some of the things they’ve heard over the summer,” Watson said in an interview after the meeting. “We just wanted to make sure that we gave them the forum to know … how the university is responding.”
He continued: “We’re going to keep working on student safety in all aspects, not just sexual assaults, and we really want to be a student government like we were tonight, offering students a forum to speak out, but also offer them resources.”