Towson University will be hiring more police officers, behavioral and mental health counselors, and other support staff as a response to student and campus community concerns in light of two on-campus sexual assaults, the school’s president said Oct. 2.
“We’re going to move as quickly as possible,” President Kim Schatzel said. “We’re talking weeks, not months.”
The school announced Thursday that seven positions will be added to police staffing, with hiring completed within 45 days, and that four additional counselors will be brought on board. Towson also “will be looking at additional staffing and other resources needs in the upcoming weeks," according to a news release.
The announcement to add staff came less than 24 hours after Schatzel called an “emergency forum” to discuss the campus climate at the university. About 300 people, including students, faculty and staff, attended a closed-door meeting Oct. 1 to share their concerns about campus safety and the university’s operations after two sexual assault reports in a relatively short amount of time.
The first was a reported on-campus rape, in which one man, a 20-year-old student, is accused of raping a female student in his dorm room on Sept. 22. Onyekachukwu Chukwuebuk Igwilo, charged with first-degree rape, is held without bond in Baltimore County and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
The second incident was a female student who reported being groped the night of Sept. 29 in the University Union, an on-campus student center. In that instance, a university official said no charges had been filed as of midweek.
The on-campus meeting with the school’s leadership, including Schatzel and Leah Cox, Towson’s vice president for inclusion and institutional equity, was framed as an opportunity for the administration to listen to the campus community and hear concerns, Schatzel said.
“I was really pleased with the attendance, I was really pleased with the participation, I was really pleased with the thoughtfulness,” Schatzel said.
Despite this, many students were frustrated with how the meeting went. Bailey Hendricks, editor-in-chief of The Towerlight, an independent, student-run newspaper on Towson’s campus, said their reporting found campus morale to be low following the assault incidents.
“From talking to students last night, a lot of the responses that we got is that [students] wanted more detailed and direct answers from administration,” Hendricks said.
Other students agreed. Elise Crouch, a pre-nursing student who lives on campus, said she has felt some unease walking around the university previously.
Crouch said she did not have “any peace of mind that anything is going to change” at the university because of how the meeting was handled. She was looking for more specific details, she said.
University officials recommended using a mobile app called SaferMobility if they feel unsafe on campus, Crouch said. The app allows users to share location, audio and video with campus police instantly. But Crouch said she would rather see a more active police presence on campus.
“If you’re in a situation where you’re being attacked, you’re not going to open your phone and go on this app,” she said.
Nikki Boyce, a senior studying criminal justice, said she was glad to hear the campus had plans to hire more staff, but was also looking for more specifics.
“Promising something in the future is not always beneficial for us, because people are uneasy now,” Boyce said.
Schatzel said she understood the frustrations and said the university would not “drag its feet.” University leadership will continually check in with the campus community to see how well students and others think their concerns are being addressed, she said.
The university was also able to tout one immediate step it took to improve campus safety. Towson University is dotted with emergency blue lights, stations where anyone can press a button to trigger a police response.
At the forum, students pointed out that a residence hall across Burke Avenue, a building that used to be a Marriott hotel, did not have a blue light in front. Before the close of business on Oct. 2, within 24 hours of the forum, one had been installed outside the building.