Awareness or security? A recent sexual assault at Pitt reveals the complexities of tackling campus sexual violence

People walk down a stairwell in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Oakland. The tower of classrooms and faculty offices was the site of a reported sexual assault that took place in one of the building’s stairwells while school was in session, late on a Monday afternoon in October, said university police. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

After a classmate was sexually assaulted on campus, Pitt students are grappling with solutions. “Something needs to come out of this.”

by Emma Folts, PublicSource

Content warning: This story contains references to sexual violence.

College campuses are supposed to be safe places for students to learn, build relationships and pursue their passions. At the University of Pittsburgh, a recently reported sexual assault has fractured that sense of safety, spurring demands for change and criticism over potential solutions.

About two weeks ago, a female student was sexually assaulted in a stairwell in the Cathedral of Learning. The late afternoon attack – one of three sexual assaults Pitt has issued crime alerts for this academic year – sparked a protest of more than 100 students. A petition calling for greater security received thousands of signatures but was deleted after prompting concerns among students over increased policing.

Students are now grappling with possible paths forward. On Monday, four students finished an open letter to Pitt demanding that the university consistently provide high-quality sexual assault prevention education, transparently enforce consequences for perpetrators and invest in emotional support counseling and trauma-informed care for survivors, among other action items.

On college campuses, sexual violence more frequently occurs at parties and in fraternities – not academic buildings on Monday afternoons. The assault raises questions about how universities can prevent sexual violence and maintain openness to the public. Could awareness efforts have prevented this attack? Can increased security solve the cultural problems that perpetuate sexual violence?

The university is hosting a town hall with the Student Government Board on Wednesday to hear students’ concerns and the actions they’d like the university to take. The town hall will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on the seventh floor of Alumni Hall.

“There’s a lot of different solutions that are being proposed among students,” said Danielle Floyd, a senior and president of the Student Government Board. “But it’s a general consensus that something needs to come out of this.”

Students question Cathedral security

The university has not yet identified the perpetrator of the assault. The crime alert describes the suspect as a college-age male.

There were 75 security cameras in the Cathedral at the time of the assault as well as security and police patrols, Pitt Chief of Police James Loftus said in a statement. He did not state whether there were cameras in the stairwell where the assault occurred but said that Pitt is adding cameras and has placed security personnel in stairwells. Ted Fritz, vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management, said in an Oct. 7 message to the campus community that all buildings have security. 

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