SIU interim chancellor prioritizes campus safety in state of university speech

In his state of the university speech Wednesday at Southern Illinois University Carbondale , Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell said prioritizing and improving safety will be a big focus now and throughout the coming year.  

Freshman Phynix Huhn-Simmons is still new to SIU, but she said so far she loves it there, from the classes to the beauty of the campus. She said safety wasn’t a big worry for her initially, but she tries to be careful when walking around on campus.

"I usually try to bring somebody with me, but I feel pretty safe," Huhn-Simmons said. But, she says recent shootings and sexual assaults are concerning. "You know, it is something to think about in the back of your mind," she said.

Colwell said safety concerns can also affect other areas, like enrollment. 

"We know that safety has to be first and foremost, because if we can’t get students here because they don’t feel we’re safe, then — as I said in the speech — then students don’t come, and it impacts businesses," Colwell said.

After a year of shootings, sexual assaults and racist threats, Colwell said SIU is making a number of changes. Following a racist video threatening African Americans on campus and a viral video alleging rampant racism there, SIU has been working to improve safety and diversity on campus. It has added cultural and diversity training for staff and is implementing a plan to protect students. Along with conducting listening sessions and working with students, the school has formed a diversity council made up with a large percentage of students with the goal to put a diversity plan in place.

"With the diversity council, the student membership, proportionally, is double of the rest of the constituency groups. I’m trying to send a signal of ‘We want you at the table’," Colwell said. He says the school will soon conduct a campus climate survey to assess student comfort and the level of inclusivity on campus.

Recently, SIU hired a confidential adviser to help rape victims find counseling and help. The campus department of public safety also released an app designed to help students get home safe, with the option of a police escort. It’s quick and simple to use. Say you’re walking home on campus late at night and don’t feel safe. You can use the SIU Safe Walk app to safely request an escort home. You open the app, fill in a few blanks and a police escort can meet you and walk you home.

"We’ve got to let people know it’s safe to come to Carbondale. It’s safe to come on campus," Colwell said. He says those are just the start of positive, student-minded changes going to the Carbondale campus.

Want to download the SIU Safe Walk app? You can download it on the Apple App store or on Google Play for free. For more information on the app, click here

Other priorities Colwell listed during the address included improving enrollment numbers and surviving the state budget impasse.

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