Family Violence: Ensuring Student Safety Off Campus
by Anika Talia Griffiths | published Apr. 27th, 2018
The arrest of a fourth year RIT student in connection with her mother’s death was succeeded by an email sent out to the RIT community. Apart from the allegations, the student body wasn’t fully aware of the situation surrounding this student, or the implications of what happened.
As a part of a plea agreement, the student admitted to helping her father kill her mother. She told Judge Peter Bradstreet that her father had asked her to assist in murdering the mother — his ex-wife — after years of an ongoing custody battle over the student’s younger sister. The student also said that her father had told her to lie to police and frame the murder as a suicide. According to Jeff Spaulding, the police chief of Corning, “There was a history of domestic violence calls at [the mother’s] residence.”
"There’s domestic violence in a lot of homes and we don’t know about it."
The fact that this issue is so widely experienced means that the RIT community as a whole can be negatively impacted if the needs of domestic violence victims aren’t met. Anthony Yazback, the manager of investigations in RIT’s public safety department, understands this.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of things that revolve around domestic violence in people’s homes — what that leads to — and people don’t just leave their baggage at home and come to college,” he said. “There’s domestic violence in a lot of homes and we don’t know about it. I think a lot of times it kind of comes out in different ways.”
Providing help to students from abusive homes is important to ensuring that students of all backgrounds can succeed at RIT and in their adult lives beyond.
RIT takes various measures to keep students safe on campus. You can be walked back to your dorm if you feel at risk, blue lights are stationed across campus that can contact emergency services and RIT has the Tigersafe app that allows public safety to track a specific location in an emergency. This is because universities are legally and ethically obligated to ensure student safety on campus.
What is difficult to address is the question of whether or not universities are ethically obligated to minimize the safety risk for students who are victims of family violence. The abusive behavior is being committed off campus, but the effects will stay with students and play out on the college campus once they return. So, what can RIT do to assist students in such situations without possibly overstepping ethical or legal boundaries?
“We don’t have the authority to go to somebody’s home off campus, but we can provide resources,” Yazback said.
The public safety department is like a “clearing house” that directs students towards the resources best suited for their specific needs. The team not only deals in enforcing rules but works closely with other departments in RIT to ensure student wellness. Yazback emphasized the strong connections between the departments of RIT. Not only do the directors of various student-centered departments have good relationships that allow for discussion on the best way to guide students, but they also meet regularly to discuss student wellness. Some of these student-centered departments include Residence Life, Academic Advising, NTID Services, Wellness and Health center and Public Safety.
There are times when a student will need and ask for police involvement. In such a case, public safety can bring in the help of the Monroe County Police Department and communications can be made with the sheriff. At other times, a student may be in danger but is too scared to report their family member’s abusive behavior. When this happens, public safety works with the wellness center and attempts to get the student out of the environment to prevent further harm.
Our public safety department does a good job of helping students on and off campus for a small-scale university. University of Michigan, with a total enrollment more than twice our size, provides a good example of how a larger-scale university can assist students who suffer abuse. The university’s public safety department has a Special Victims Unit (SVU), a specially trained team that works with students who are victims of interpersonal violence such as stalking, sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. They offer a wide range of services to students whether or not the victim wants to report the abuse. Such services include medical assistance, police reports, safety planning, personal protection orders, various accommodations, counseling and legal advocacy.
If a student lives in a violent household, but is reluctant to report, a good option for them is to get assistance with safety planning. A safety planning form offered by the University of Michigan can be printed out from the link above and taken to the ombudsperson in the Ombuds Office. There, a student can get counseling on what steps to take in which situations. The Ombuds office offers confidential counseling and guidance for students who need help in resolving various issues. This is the best option for those who are fearful of filing a report against their family.
Dawn Sullivan, the program coordinator for RIT's Ombuds Office, assures students that their information will kept confident.
“That’s one of our core principles, here, is that confidentiality. So whatever information I get, I obviously share with Lee — our ombudsperson. But what conversation happens in her office or with her she does not share with anyone else. It stays between the party and Lee,” said Sullivan.
If the student is willing, the ombudsperson will bring in public safety so that a discussion can be had about ways to stay safe in a violent home.
If you feel at risk because of abusive or violent behavior at home, there are resources to use both on and off campus.
Provides 100 percent confidential and impartial guidance through any situation.
Bonus: Ombudsperson Lee Twyman has years of experience in consulting on family issues.
Located: SAU 1110
Contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact via phone: 585-475-7200 or 585-475-2876
Center for Women and Gender:
Provides various types of assistance in dealing with sexual assault and gender discrimination.
Located: Campus Center 1760
Contact via email: email@example.com
Contact via phone: 585-475-7464 or 585-475-2950
Counseling and Psychological Services:
Provide assistance in improving emotional wellbeing and mental health.
Located: August Center, 2nd floor
Contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact via phone: 585-475-2261 (during business hours) or 855-436-1245 (outside business hours)
Assists students in navigating situation on and off campus through the use of health and wellness services.
Located: August Center, Suite 2914
Contact via email: email@example.com
Contact via phone: 585-475-3963
Provides assistance to members of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community who are victims of domestic or sexual violence.
Contact via email: DeafIGNITE@gmail.com
Contact via videophone/phone: 585-286-2713
Willow Domestic Violence Center:
Offers support services to members of the LGBTQ+ community who are dealing with domestic violence or dating violence.
Bonus: all services are free and confidential
Contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact via phone: 585-222-7233 (24-hour hotline) or 585-232-1741 (24-hour TTY)