WWU students question school's security policies

A rash of frightening incidents at Western Washington University have students questioning the school's security policies.

Students at Western Washington University voiced their concerns over what they consider a lack of action and follow-through by university officials regarding student safety issues on campus.

"It's very frustrating," said sophomore Emily Gaston.

Gaston returned to her dorm room one night last November and received some terribly troubling news.

"Basically, a convicted felon had entered my room, and when the police arrested him, he was going through my makeup drawer and wearing my clothing," she said.

The university alerted students about the incident at Highland Hall via text and email, but Gaston said officials downplayed its seriousness.

"The Western alert that was sent out was something to the effect of clothing was being stolen in Highland," she said.

Gaston's is one of a handful of recent incidents that have left students at the Bellingham campus shaken including a Peeping Tom and a situation where a man lifted a young woman's shirt and tried to take a picture.

University police say Western's main campus is as safe or safer than the overall Bellingham community. Federal reports show violent crime on campus is rare. Most offenses are related to alcohol, drugs, or student misconduct.

"I am gravely concerned about the safety of students here," said Wayne Rocque, vice president of associated students of WWU.

Rocque said these and many more issues have been brought to the university's attention, but there has been little follow-up, leaving students feeling ignored.

"Whether we are studying at home or passing through campus our safety has to be assured," he said. "We need them to take these concerns seriously."

"There is nothing more important than campus safety," added Eileen Coughlin, vice president of student services.

Coughlin conceded the school could do a better job of "closing the loop" with students on certain events, but she maintained the university is completely transparent and has taken many steps toward improving student safety.

"We've added staff and specialized personnel for sexual assault investigations,” Coughlin said. “We've updated our code of conduct. We've increased required training for students, faculty, and staff."

Coughlin said the university is open to further dialog with students to figure out ways to "perfect" its policies.

© 2017 KING-TV


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