Andrew Siddons: Communicate to stop confusion on campus

There was an alleged assault on campus last week, but this may be the first time you’re hearing of this. While it was reported on the pages of The Hatchet (“Student Alleges Assault in Academic Center,” Feb. 26, p. 1), it slipped through the cracks of our campus-wide conversation.

The first I heard about it wasn’t even from this paper, but from a local NBC news report more than a week after the fact. Apparently there were posters around campus, but I didn’t see any. Therefore, the University’s professed effort to inform us failed.

Personally, I’ve never feared for my safety on or around GW’s campus. But the fact is that we live in a metropolitan area that’s regularly ranked among the most dangerous in the nation. Last summer, former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsay declared a “crime emergency” after 13 murders happened during a 12-day period.

While most of the serious crime in D.C. is centralized in a few rough neighborhoods, the murder that prompted Ramsay to act happened in Georgetown. Violent crime is rare around this campus, but it happens. What’s scary about last week’s assault is that it didn’t take place a few blocks off campus, like the January assault at a bar that resulted in a student needing his jaw wired. It happened at Academic Center, arguably the heart of our campus. And it wasn’t in the dead of night, when it’s reasonable to say that students should be on their guard, but at the conspicuous hour of 9 a.m.

The Hatchet reported that the University Police Department posted crime alerts around campus on the day of the crime, and the NBC news report quoted university spokesperson Tracy Schario saying, “We’re posting these flyers all over.” The same NBC report, however, also wrote that when its reporter arrived on the scene, “there were none in place on the door of the building where the attack happened, or in the lobby or the front doors of the library or the nearest dorm.” I certainly don’t remember seeing any around.

What the University should have done is send around a report of the alleged incident in a blast e-mail, which is used to promote basketball games and Blackboard outages. It’s important to acknowledge that all accounts of the assault are still “alleged” and the investigation into the matter is ongoing. The facts are scarce, but the University needs to be more forthcoming about safety matters that would clearly concern GW students, staff and faculty.

While GW failed to e-mail students about a major security concern on campus, unfortunately this is not the only instance of poor communication at GW. For example, where was the blast e-mail announcing the cancellation of classes after the snowstorm a few weeks ago? On Feb. 13, the decision was made to cancel all classes beginning past 5 p.m. sometime during the afternoon. I’m not sure when this was decided, because I went to my 5:10 p.m. class. Since I wasn’t expecting a snow day, I wasn’t keeping tabs on GW’s campus advisories. Apparently, neither were any of my classmates or the professor, all of whom were in attendance.

During that same poor weather period, pipes in a number of University buildings, including the Marvin Center, the law school and a sorority town house, froze, flooded and generally inconvenienced some GW students. The Hatchet reported that the law students were stuck waiting in the cold for an hour with no idea what to do (“Soggy Bottom: frozen water pipes rupture, flood four campus buildings,” Feb. 8, p. 1).

Another instance that the University community should have been alerted to was when UPD had concluded its investigation into the Greek townhouse thefts with no answers as to what happened. Not only was the University community left uninformed and without reminders of what sorts of care to take, but reportedly the residents of these townhouses were left ignorant of the fact that the investigation had even ended.

At times when the University is experiencing a threat or anticipating bad weather and the adverse effects it can bring – cancellations, flooding or power outages – a simple e-mail reminding students of what to do and who to contact would be very helpful. I don’t think this is an unreasonable proposition, since we get reminders like this every year when protesters descend on Foggy Bottom for the World Bank meetings. It’s no secret that students check their e-mail accounts obscenely often, so why not use this fact to everyone’s advantage?

Stop keeping us in the dark. It’s great that the University uses infomail to inform us about basketball games, Zipcar and study abroad opportunities. It must also start using the most effective tool it has for communicating issues about safety, security and weather – things that really affect the lives of GW students.

-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs and anthropology,

is a Hatchet columnist.

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