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Lauren McCluskey’s mother questions student safety at the University of Utah

FILE: Lauren McCluskey, a student-athlete at the University of Utah, was murdered in October 2018. Photo: University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY – Is anyone’s daughter safe at the University of Utah?  That’s question posed by the mother of slain U of U track star Lauren McCluskey.

Jill McCluskey wrote a scathing op-ed, published by the Salt Lake Tribune, blasting the school’s response to her daughter’s repeated calls for protection against her eventual killer, Melvin Rowland.  The article says the school’s safety system is dangerously flawed and that it “tragically failed Lauren.”

(Photo: KSL TV)

It reads, in part, “If our daughter’s death could not have been prevented after she reached out to campus police so many times, we have to ask, is anyone’s daughter safe?”

So, we asked students, “Do you feel safe?”

Some students say they definitely feel campus police could have done more to keep Rowland away from Lauren McCluskey.

One says, “There should have been an immediate [sense of] ‘we need to keep our eye out on this guy.’”

Some students say they haven’t noticed much of a change since McCluskey’s murder.

“It seems like the same, really.  I’ve just been more aware [of my safety],” according to one woman.

However, others say they’ve seen a lot of changes.

One student says, “I feel safe because there are emergency posts where we can hit a button,” one student says.  That button would notify police.  Another says, “I could always call a security guard just to say, ‘Hey, I need a ride.’”

Some students say they’ve notice a large increase in the number of officers patrolling student housing, while others say faculty is more prone to take complaints more seriously than before.

“Teachers are more adamant on saying, ‘If something is up, talk to us and talk to us, now.”

The university issued a statement in response to McCluskey’s op-ed.  It reads…

“In an op-ed article in today’s Salt Lake Tribune, the parents of Lauren McCluskey raised important questions and understandable concerns about campus safety and whether the university’s public safety, student housing and other departments did everything they could to prevent the crime that took their daughter’s life.

Lauren’s friends, teachers and all the other members of the university community still grieve the loss of this vibrant and promising young student and athlete. But we are aware that nothing can compare to the heartache of parents who have lost their daughter to a violent crime.

Precisely because serious questions were immediately raised about the university’s response in Lauren’s case, and their implications for campus security, University President Ruth V. Watkins in October 2018 promptly commissioned an independent and thorough review from three outside experts covering every aspect of campus security. Those experts included two highly respected former commissioners of public safety in Utah and a former university chief of police who now serves as the head of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. The report was received in late December and includes specific recommendations for improvement in policing, security and campus communications. The full report and the university’s response has been shared with the campus community and can be viewed online.

President Watkins has accepted the report’s findings and recommendations without reservation. Although the report concluded that there is no way to know for certain whether this tragic murder could have been prevented, it identified mistakes and weaknesses in university procedures and actions that handled differently, could have made a difference.

The university is acting immediately to correct the deficiencies identified in the report. Work is underway to implement every one of the 30 recommendations made by the review team—and to hold accountable those tasked with these actions. It is the university’s position that we must give our leadership and staff the training and resources to learn from this tragedy and work as a team to make our campus as safe as we possibly can for our students, staff, faculty and visitors. We are committed to keeping our campus community informed of the progress being made on this front.

We recognize the need for constant vigilance, and we welcome input from the McCluskeys and others. No one can fully appreciate and share the grief of the McCluskey family and Lauren’s friends, but we do share their concern for the safety and security of current and future students and a commitment to the safety and well-being of our campus community.”

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