The University of Wyoming sits nearly dormant between its fall and spring semesters, but as students prepare for their return from a generous winter break, some are hard at work, thinking about how to make campus a safer place to be.
Peytin Fitzgerald and Alexandra Eisele, who organized a walk-out in November to protest the university’s handling of sexual assault reports and campus safety, are gearing up for a second meeting with UW’s No More campaign committee.
No More is a national initiative to raise awareness and end domestic violence and sexual assault, most visible throughout the Laramie community in the form of bright blue circle bumper stickers.
Fitzgerald and Eisele were invited to No More’s most recent meeting in response to their walk-out.
“I think it will get better now, because I don’t think they’re used to having students in their meetings before, so they could just talk,” Eisele said. “Now they have people who are like, ‘Hey, you’re doing some things that we think could be done a little bit better.’”
Several UW students walked out of class Nov. 20 and gathered on Simpson Plaza to show support for victims of sexual assault. The students marched across campus — holding signs decorated with slogans and statistics — to deliver a signed petition to Old Main, the location of UW President Laurie Nichols’ office.
“We can’t wait — it’s happening now,” Eisele said at the time. “We wanted to do something that is a little more noticeable than a petition going around, because it needs to be said and needs to be heard.”
The issue of sexual assault took center spotlight earlier in November when the UW Police Department reported an assault occurred on campus.
“University police were informed early this morning that a female victim was walking across the (East Stadium) parking lot on Friday night when an unknown suspect tackled the victim and sexually assaulted her,” according to a Nov. 12 all-campus email informing students, staff and faculty about the incident. “At this time, the victim in this case wishes to remain anonymous. Evidence has been collected in the event the victim elects to make a formal report at a later time.”
In addition to releasing details about the specific incident, the email provided hotline phone numbers, information on counseling resources and safety suggestions.
“Anyone can be sexually assaulted, and there are no sure means to prevent sexual assault, because the only people who can prevent sexual assault are those who perpetrate it,” the email reads. “However, you can take steps to lessen the likelihood that you or your friends will be assaulted or will assault someone.”
Fitzgerald and Eisele said their petition took issue with the email’s focus on victims and use of gendered language, while asking for timelier responses, more lights on campus, more UWPD presence on campus and notifications of off-campus assaults in addition to the required reporting of on-campus incidents.
The walk-out was received favorably by members of the administration, with Vice President for Student Affairs Sean Blackburn and Chief Diversity Officer Emily Monago attending the walk-out and President Laurie Nichols meeting with Fitzgerald and Eisele before.
The walk-out organizers discussed their petition with the members of the No More committee during its Dec. 11 meeting.
Eisele said she was grateful for the chance to share a student perspective with a largely non-student group.
“We don’t want to be like, ‘You guys aren’t doing things right,’ because they’re trying really hard, but it’s hard to see what you’re doing while you’re in it,” she said. “We’re all working together for the same thing. We all want this to be a safe campus so let’s do it the best way we can.”
ASUW President Ben Wetzel, who co-chairs the UW No More campaign’s policy and response committee, was present for the discussion.
“I think we had a productive meeting,” he said. “We went step by step through the nine different areas that were addressed in their letter and had some constructive (discussion) around them. We were able to inform them on some areas we were already working on prior to the protest, and take detailed notes on ways we could improve.”
The walk-out organizers were unaware of certain initiatives underway, even before the walk-out, to improve campus and student safety. For example, the student government recently formed an ad-hoc safety committee, tasked with looking into acquiring apps such as Rave Guardian for UW. Others at the university are looking into establishing a hotline students could call when they are walking alone.
“I wouldn’t say any of their concerns were off-base or misinformed,” Wetzel said. “They were all very valid concerns, but I do believe that some of their concerns were already on the radar of the university and our other community advocates or they were problems that were already addressed and solved.”
For example, UW is planning to audit its campus lighting sometime in early spring, a new investigator was hired in the Dean of Students Office — beginning their duties just days after the No More meeting — and UWPD is often more present on campus than it appears because of plainclothes officers.
Fitzgerald said it was difficult for the majority of students to stay apprised of what UW was doing.
“When we did start this, we didn’t know they were working on an app, we didn’t know they were doing this hotline thing,” she said. “There’s all these things they’re working on but nobody in the student body knew about them.”
Wetzel said these confusions convinced him of the need to advertise ASUW’s efforts more effectively.
“It just highlighted that we need to do more education and work to inform students of the strides we are making in the areas of prevention and response of sexual assault and misconduct,” he said.
Fitzgerald and Eisele plan to attend the No More campaign’s January meeting to continue discussing the concerns raised in the original petition.