Student Advisory Board spends first year defining goals with safety and security leadership

Media Credit: File Photo by Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

Updated: Sept. 13, 2019 at 7:10 p.m.

The student advisory board for the Division of Safety and Security worked with officials to define the board’s goals in its inaugural year.

The board, which officials created to improve students’ relationships with campus safety leadership, has spent the year garnering student feedback and holding conversations with safety and security staff to determine action items for the board. Rebecca Bizzarri, a first-year graduate student and a program assistant in the Division of Safety and Security, said the board was in a transition phase last academic year as students tried to flesh out the board’s role on campus.

“Our department, much like many departments at GW, have been under a lot of transition with staff and priorities and organization structure,” she said. “The purpose of the board last year, I think, was to get it up and running and to kind of toss around ideas about what we want this board to be.”

Bizzarri said the board held its first meeting of the year last week, at which Burnotes reviewed changes that have recently occurred in the safety and security division.

GWPD leaders have endured a period of turnover since the former chief of police and assistant chief of police resigned last January. Instead of hiring a new chief, the University shifted GWPD oversight to Darrell Darnell, the former senior associate vice president for safety and security.

Darnell quietly left his position in March and alumnus and former GWPD officer Scott Burnotes took the helm as associate vice president of safety and security in August.

She said students spend meetings discussing problems relating to GWPD that they’ve personally encountered on campus, then brainstorm how the University can improve the issues.

She added that the organization is recruiting students to join the board for the next month and hopes to add about 10 members to the six students who currently serve.

Student Association leadership first proposed the student advisory board in 2016 but struggled to find members. Last year, the board had 14 members, but Bizzarri said several students graduated and left 10 open spots.

“Since it is more of an internal body to provide feedback and less of its own independent student organization we want to make sure that we can keep the conversation productive,” Bizzarri said.

She said the board’s meetings, typically held in District House, often include officials like Burnotes, Victim Services Specialist Tamara Washington and Assistant Vice President for Health and Safety Kathleen Fox. She said the board’s communication with the division of Health and Safety is an “interactive dialogue” instead of a set-up where students bring formal proposals to the officials.

She said the board tries to present feedback to the department in conversations and during meetings instead of trying to present ideas to GWPD “perfectly.”

“We don’t want something where students feel like they have to perfectly formulate their ideas and make proposals, students should be able to express their feedback and their thoughts in any manner,” Bizzarri said.

Kalpana Vissa, a second-year graduate student, said she joined the board to provide feedback on GW’s sexual violence prevention techniques and GWPD’s sensitivity training. She said one of the board’s main goals this year is to provide student feedback about new initiatives and programs in the division to Burnotes.

Vissa said the advisory board tabled at GW’s National Crime Victims Rights’ Resource Fair, which launched the board’s engagement with students throughout the year.

“Understanding that safety and security is more than just GWPD is very important,” Vissa said in an email. “We ended up spending the year learning about various departments and programs within the division while also determining a programming strategy for the year.”

Kayleigh Calder, a junior majoring in systems engineering, joined the board last fall and said the advisory board focused on increasing transparency between students and the safety division. She said the board pushed for a safety and security student orientation that explains the University’s existing safety procedures.

She added that the board’s first year was “challenging” because of the department’s turnover, but the board was able to collect student feedback and help test out the GW Pal app that will be released this academic year.

“Our inaugural year was a year of figuring out how we can best serve the student body on our campus,” Calder said.

She added that the board plans to engage in educational workshops throughout the upcoming year to understand the University’s current initiatives and procedures. Calder said the board will continue to emphasize transparency, particularly in light of new changes like the shift to having resident advisers patrol residence halls and next year’s Thurston Hall renovations.

“We want to make sure that students have a platform to gain answers to these questions, and that the University is being transparent about these changes,” she said.

This post has been updated to reflect the following clarification and correction:

The lede and headline have been altered to better reflect the department that the student board advises. The Hatchet incorrectly reported that a senior security official discussed changes in GWPD leadership at a recent meeting. He reviewed changes in the security division as a whole. We regret this error.

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