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02.12.2012 in Top Stories Bookmark and Share

President’s Open Forum on Safety: Stronger together than apart

The safety of all members of the University community is a major priority for York U, said President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri at the President’s Open Forum on Campus Safety Thursday.

In 2011-2012 alone, York University invested $10.2 million in safety upgrades, enhanced equity and diversity training, and trained security staff to enable them to make a citizen’s arrest.

The President’s Open Forum on Campus Safety featured a panel of University officials and representatives from York’s student governments. Above: from left, Vice-Provost Students Janet Morrison; Tanya McFadyen, VP gender issues, Graduate Students Association; York President & Vice Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri; Safiyah Husein, VP equity, York Federation of Students; York Vice-President Finance & Administration Gary Brewer; Staff Sergeant Rick Blanchard of the Community Response Unit, Toronto Police Service (TPS); and Al Coulter, lead investigator, TPS. At the podium is Professor John Amanatides, master of Bethune College and chair of the Community Safety Council.

Shoukri made his comments to a capacity crowd in the Founders Assembly Hall as some 250 faculty, staff, students and members of the Black Creek community gathered to explore and debate ways in which the University and its constituents  can work together to improve safety on the Keele campus. They were joined by more than 650 viewers who logged into the forum website to view the proceedings online.

“What we are witnessing is the York University community coming together to share common concerns and to develop a community response to safety – the most important element to any community,” said Shoukri in his opening remarks.

Shoukri; Vice-President Finance & Administration Gary Brewer; Vice-Provost Students Janet Morrison; Tanya McFadyen, VP gender issues, Graduate Students Association; Safiyah Husein, VP equity, York Federation of Students; Staff Sergeant Rick Blanchard of the Community Response Unit, Toronto Police Service (TPS); and Al Coulter, lead investigator, TPS, participated in the community meeting, which was moderated by Provost and Vice-President Academic Rhonda Lenton.

Above: It was standing-room only in the Founders Assembly Hall as York students, faculty and staff took time out of their busy day to attend the open forum

York’s president called for an immediate forum on campus safety following a series of assaults and robberies that took place on the Keele campus during the last 10 days of November. “Such gatherings are never easy,” said Shoukri. “Our community is understandably upset about safety, which clearly has been magnified by last week’s incidents. I’m as concerned as anyone with the number and frequency of recent incidents on campus. We all understand that issues of safety at their core are broad societal issues.”

“Exploitation, gender-based assault and power-based violence are all issues that our society must address,” he said. “Our role as a university, especially one as progressive as York, is to engage our community on the issues and to develop a shared sense of responsibility. We, and when I say ‘we’, I mean collectively, as a community – students, faculty, staff and University administrators – have a responsibility to be part of the solution; indeed, we must accept our responsibility to take on that leadership role.”

Staff Sergeant Rick Blanchard (left) of the Community Response Unit, Toronto Police Service (TPS); and Al Coulter, lead investigator, TPS

He called to community leaders, those in student government, the academy and staff to commit to changing the societal causes of violence through scholarship and engaged citizenship. He noted his ongoing support for the important work of the University’s Community Safety Council, which has representation from across the University. Shoukri said that good progress has been made on the 101 recommendations contained in a safety audit of the campus conducted by the not-for-profit organization METRAC in 2010.

He then asked Brewer to report on the University’s progress towards implementing the METRAC recommendations. Brewer said that in two years, some 70 per cent of the recommendations have either been implemented or are significantly advanced. The METRAC recommendations that have been implemented are:

  • As of Nov. 20, all York Security personnel have been retrained, equipped with personal protective gear, and certified to make a citizen’s arrest.
  • A new protocol for security bulletins that includes the e-mail delivery of bulletins to students, faculty and staff.
  • The addition of 17 new emergency “Blue” phones to the network on the University’s campuses, which represents an increase of 50 per cent.
  • Installation of 70 new emergency notification LCD screens on the Keele campus and two additional screens on the Glendon.
  • An investment of $400,000  in lighting upgrades, which includes the launch of a new service e-mail to report burned out lights: lightout@yorku.ca.
  • Three additional routes added to the campus shuttle service to the Village, a residential development south of the Keele campus, with shuttle stops on every road in the development.
  • An expansion of the campus goSAFE safe escort program.
  • A pilot of a public address system is now being expanded into all campus buildings.
  • The Centre for Human Rights (CHR) is strengthening its work in sexual assault prevention and has hired a new adviser and will soon implement a new online tutorial titled, “Respect, Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (REDI)”.
  • A new safety awareness campaign will launch in 2013.
  • A commitment by the president and senior administrators to continue the dialogue through regular town halls, with the next meeting with faculty, staff and students planned for January 2013.

Following the presentations, Lenton turned the floor over to students, faculty and staff, and the online audience. Suggestions from University community members included:

  • A request that the University libraries operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rather than the current five day a week arrangement.
  • Research into either procuring or developing a smartphone app to offer more immediate distribution of security alerts and the geographical location of incidents.
  • A renewal of reminders to students in residence of the importance of being aware of whom they allow into the residence buildings.
  • A greater investment in security service personnel and the possibility of locating security kiosks around the campus rather than a centralized office.
  • Key card access to all buildings.

Over the next few weeks, the University’s senior administration will review and assess the suggestions that have been provided. As well, an open forum has been scheduled for parents and will take place on Dec. 11.

Click here to view the video of the open forum.

In January, the University’s senior administration will share which recommendations will be implemented right away and others that may be done in the mid- and long-term.

To learn more about safety initiatives at York University, visit the website: www.yorku.ca/safety. If you have any ideas or suggestions about improving safety at York U, they are always welcome at safety@yorku.ca.

For more University news, photos and videos, visit the YFile homepage.

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