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January 27, 2012

Student group seeks to start dialogue around campus safety

Students dissatisfied with the quality of discussion on campus of security issues and policing gathered for an informal meeting Monday evening in the Reynolds Club.

The RSO which organized the forum, the Chicago Justice Initiative (CJI), formed in 2007 to spread awareness among undergraduates about inequality in the United States legal system, but it has only recently shifted toward issues immediately facing the student body.

“While [previous] CJI events have been successful, we have noticed a dearth of honest and open conversation among students around social and political issues that affect the University and its neighbors,” fourth-year David Showalter, a CJI director, wrote in an e-mail after the talk. “We hope this discussion series will provide a safe space to foster those conversations.”

Issues discussed in Monday’s inaugural meeting included the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD)’s cAlert security notification system, the recent sale of “Where fun comes to get mugged” mugs, and the possible effects of UCPD’s jurisdiction borders on students and the community.

CJI’s three directors requested that details of the meeting be off the record, out of concern that their publication would stifle future conversations.

Third-year Olivia Woollam, who attended the talk, said that another hope was that the meeting would bring into the fold students who normally are not involved in social and campus activism.

“For whatever reason, this student body is largely uninterested in security issues, and the people who engage this type of issues tend to be of a niche crowd,” she said in an interview.

Woollam and Showalter both complained that most of the dialogue regarding campus security issues is filtered through highly structured channels, like question-and-answer sessions with administrators.

“The administrators seem to get in the habit of only interacting with SG officials and a select few outsiders,” said Woollam, who has participated in the campaign to bring a level-one medical trauma center to Hyde Park. “Yet, they always talk about hearing from more students and getting more student opinions.”

Ideally, Showalter said, there would be more places for students to talk formally, but amongst themselves.

“While Q&As with administrators occur with relative regularity, there currently exist no forums for students to openly discuss their concerns with each other,” he said.

The RSO hopes to broaden the discussion of security for the University community by organizing discussions twice a month.

“The goal is not to formulate a single platform or list of demands,” Showalter said.

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