Poor attendance, fire alarm plague forum

Jessica Sasseen

At 4:45 p.m. Thursday, room 305 of the Downing University Center was empty. The campus safety forum was scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. With 15 minutes until show time, the room was deserted.

Five panelists slowly filed in, along with members of Student Government Association’s executive council. At a few minutes after five, the trickle of attendants came to a halt. Eight students, five panel members, three reporters, one photographer and the vice president for Student Affairs sat in the room. It still appeared empty.

Few students showed up at the safety forum to question the campus police on safety issues and express their views on problem areas.

Panel members offered suggestions to keep students safer until the meeting was cut short by a fire alarm.

The objective of the forums is to provide a voice for students, SGA vice president John Bradley said.

“It’s really important that we do this,” Bradley said. “It’s one of the only ways we get input from students. Generally, people don’t come to us. This is our attempt to go to the students.”

With so few attendants, students were given one-on-one attention from the panelists. SGA member Patti Johnson asked questions about guns in residence halls. She was also discouraged by the lack of attendance.

“I think it’s pretty sad that you know you can go around and tell students and hand out pamphlets,” Johnson said. “You can put them up on the walls, and people still complain and tell you to talk for them.”

Panel members included campus police Investigations Commander Jerry Phelps, Staff Commander Mike Wallace, Chief of Police Robert Deane, Capt. Eugene Hoofer and Crime Prevention Officer Joe Harbaugh.

Deane suggested students “think safety.” This includes females traveling together and telling their roommate whom they’re going with and when they’re expected back, watching out for all personal belongings, locking dorm and car doors at all times and hiding valuables.

“Our expectations are to be available to the students, faculty and staff to answer any questions they have about safety on the campus. Sometimes it’s a matter of misunderstanding,” Deane said. “I would have liked to have seen more students here. But at least we did have some concerned students here who are asking us questions, and hopefully we are clarifying for them and making it easier for them.”

As the students asked questions and panelists answered, smoke began to slowly filter into the room. Discussion slowed, then the fire alarm sounded.

“What happened was they had some sewage problems. Storm drains were stopped up – they were running smoke through it to see where it was stopped up,” Hoofer said. “The smoke then got into the ventilation system.”

Participants slowly filed out of SGA chambers, ending the forum.

SGA president Jamie Sears was not discouraged by the premature ending or the poor attendance.

“I just hope (the forums) get bigger, but we’re not going to stop having them just because of low attendance,” Sears said. “It is a really, really good way for students to listen to some information and to tell administrators their concerns. I think that’s priceless.”

Deane is comfortable with the safety level on campus, but said there is room for improvement.

“If I could get students to be more careful and more conscious . we would have even less crime statistics than we have now,” he said. “It’s relatively safe, and that’s the way we want to keep it.”