University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins spoke in an open forum Aug. 26 about changes to campus police safety procedures.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, this was the first time Watkins spoke about the policies enacted after Lauren McCluskey’s death on Oct. 22, 2018. McCluskey was killed by Melvin Shawn Rowland after ending a brief relationship with him, during which he gave her false information about his name, age, and criminal history.
After her death, allegations were levied against the university, stating its campus police mishandled McCluskey’s case. Now, the U. faces a $56 million lawsuit from McCluskey’s parents on those same grounds.
U. communications director Christopher Nelson states this was not, in fact, the first time Watkins had spoken about this topic.
“It was not President Watkins’ first time presenting publicly on campus safety. It was the first time this year to the academic senate,” says Nelson.
Nelson describes McCluskey’s murder as a “transformational event” for the U.
“Since the tragedy, the university has worked diligently and methodically to understand exactly what happened so that we can prevent future mistakes. This has been a slow but thorough process, and, of course, it is ongoing – there is no finish line. As weaknesses and new issues surface, the university will move swiftly to fix them,” says Nelson.
McCluskey’s tragic death raised a lot of questions for several college campuses across the country, forcing them to consider if their safety protocols were enough.
In a November 2018 interview, SLCC counseling services manager Scott Kadera said, “There has been a constant want to improve public safety [at SLCC]. It’s not likely we will experience a school shooting, but remain vigilant, and if you see something, say something.”
Last fall, The Globe reported on safety at SLCC. One question that administrators ask students is, “What can we, as an institution, do for you?”
According to Nelson, the U. has approved a $925,000 plan from the Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety, which specializes in creating a safe environment for students. This sum is in addition to the $6 million, “that will be made by other campus entities over the next several years.”
While the U. may be doing its best to right the wrongs they allowed to fall on McCluskey, which The Daily Utah Chronicle corroborated with released audio recordings, some students feel it isn’t enough.
Devon Cantwell, a student senator, asked Watkins during her public forum, “I’d like to hear why Officer Deras has been retained, and why his failure to act properly in the second case has not prompted termination.”
Watkins declined to comment in such a public setting.