Recent incident on campus poses questions about student safety
How can University of Regina (U of R) students be sure of their personal safety while attending classes?
On October 17, 2023 an incident took place on the main U of R campus that framed this question from a new perspective. An unknown person entered a classroom where a psychology lecture was about to take place and created a disturbance that led to the cancellation of the lecture for that day.
The professor of the class, Dr. Sarah Sangster, gave an account of the incident to the Carillon. Sangster recalled, “Someone presented themselves to me in class as though they were a student in our class. They exhibited some disorganized behaviour and said some inappropriate things to me. They also said some inappropriate things and behaved inappropriately to some students in the class. Because it was difficult for me to know at the time if the person was a threat to anyone in the class, I thought it was most prudent from a safety perspective to cancel class for the day.”
As a matter of campus safety, Sangster reached out to Campus Security so that they could investigate. “After discussing the incident with security, security found the person and engaged in an investigation about their behaviour and motives. They determined that the person was not affiliated with the university in any way, that is they were neither a student nor a staff member,” said Sangster.
She emphasized that Campus Security determined that the person did not intend to target the class, the room, or any one student. She assured her students that there was no reason for anyone in the class to feel particularly threatened or targeted.
Sangster elaborated: “From security’s perspective, the person, although exhibiting some disorganized and inappropriate behaviour, did not pose a significant threat to the safety of the class or anyone in the class. That is, they apparently weren’t there with an intent to hurt anyone.”
The Carillon also spoke with Austen Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology who was approached by Sangster. Smith followed up with details of the investigation that proceeded. “The instructor for the class, Dr. Sarah Sangster, gave me a firsthand account of the events. […] This incident involved a single individual with a disorganized pattern of behaviour who made sexually inappropriate comments to the instructor and other female students.”
Security staff responded and intercepted the individual. Following their investigation, the person was escorted off the campus and the incident reported to the city police.
Smith explained, “Campus Security gave a prompt response, finding the individual and escorting them off campus, informing Regina Police Service, and deeming the situation resolved. Further, Campus Security followed up with Dr. Sangster later that day to update her on the situation and ensure she did not have further concerns.”
Smith added that Campus Security will consider the person a trespasser if seen on campus again, therefore sightings should be reported. However, since information regarding the incident and investigation were not shared with the larger campus community, the Carillon questions the usefulness of such a measure.
Although no lasting harm was caused on this occasion, U of R administration may well consider greater transparency within the university community about events that do occur. Informed students and staff are more capable of accurately assessing their environment and responding accordingly. The university website section on Campus Security agrees, listing the primary directives for UR Personal Safety as “be prepared” and “aware of your surroundings.”
Concerns also linger about how an incident such as this could end otherwise. Earlier this year, a man who was not a student entered a classroom of approximately 40 students at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and attacked the professor as well as students who came to her assistance. CBC News coverage from June 29, 2023, quoted Mark Crowell, Chief of the Waterloo Regional Police Service, describing the attack as a ”senseless act of hate.”
The assaults in Waterloo were “planned and targeted” attacks on gender studies. In an increasing public atmosphere of hate and repression of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and allies, hate-motivated crimes are of concern at U of R as well. Dr Shannon Dea, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, stated in an email to the U of R community following the Waterloo attack that “risks have intensified in recent years as populist political movements have driven hatred against 2SLGBTQ+ people, and especially trans and gender non-conforming people.”
In a separate press release following the attack at Waterloo, Jeff Keshen, President of the University of Regina, stated that “our institutions – and indeed our communities writ large – must be safe for persons of all gender identities.” In the context of addressing the increasing risk for specific groups and the communities at large, the university has promised to invest itself in solutions.
In response, at the beginning of the Fall 2023 semester, the University of Regina withheld some of the class locations from course listings for Women’s and Gender Studies classes. A private email with that information was sent to registered students instead. Some students in these classes also noted an increased Campus Security presence near their classes at the same time.
On October 19, two days following the recent incident on U of R campus, an email was sent to students from Student Affairs announcing that the public ‘search for classes’ feature will no longer include instructor and location information in interests of safety and security.
In a previous article about Campus Security, the Carillon noted that security staff recognize that they cannot be everywhere on campus all the time. The potential for Campus Security to be short staffed as the university celebrates record student enrolment keeps increasing. In the ongoing climate of budget cuts and tuition hikes, the likeliness of hiring more members for Campus Security does not look promising. Therefore, it is essential for staff and students at the university to work together as a unit so that a more efficient and well-connected environment that promotes safety is established.
Looking at Dr. Sangster’s response as an example, knowing the right thing to do is as important as knowing the right time to act. Her decision to cancel the class immediately blocked any further disturbance that the person may have caused during the lecture. Her decision to inform Campus Security instead of shrugging it off helped uncover that the person was not a staff member or student.
As a further measure, Sangster decided to talk about some security precautions that can be implemented within her class so that they have a plan if something similar happens in the future.
The Carillon wants to relay that vigilance is of importance while on campus. Being aware of incidents that happen on campus and spreading the word about them can increase the general awareness and significantly reduce the chances of harm.
It is important to report any concerning incidents to Campus Security, who are available at all hours for the university community. They may be contacted at 306-585-4999 or in-person at their office located in the Research and Innovation Centre.