Over the last few days, students have forwarded me an e-mail circulating on various list serves that describes alleged incidents of a criminal nature occurring on or near Grounds. I understand how a student receiving such an e-mail might be concerned about safety and perhaps wonder why nothing had been said by the University administration in response.
The University Police (UPD) and the Office of the Dean of Students take your safety very seriously. Many of you have heard me state publicly that I consider your safety the most significant part of my job as Dean. When a verified incident occurs that raises an issue of broader community impact, UPD Chief Mike Gibson will send out a police alert to the University community outlining the facts of the incident and the recommended steps you can take to protect yourself. Vice President Pat Lampkin will also periodically send e-mails to students detailing general safety precautions and tips to help maintain the safest possible experience at UVA. However, we do not communicate to all students regarding unsubstantiated incidents or matters that do not present a broader risk of criminal action on or near Grounds. We understand that too many e-mails lessen the impact of our communication with you in those times when we really do need to get your attention regarding a potentially serious matter.
Given the volume of e-mails circulating on list serves over the past several days, I feel it is necessary to communicate to the entire student community so that you have accurate information rather than rumor. Here is what we currently know:
- The UPD has confirmed that a male who uses a wheelchair approached a female student near Alderman Library on October 15, 2009, at approximately 8:50 am. He asked to use her cell phone and when she declined his request, he reportedly made what the UPD deemed to be inappropriate (but non-threatening) statements to the student. As a result of this interaction, UPD subsequently issued a trespass warning to this individual, barring him from the University Grounds. Thereafter, on November 10, 2009, the UPD was notified that this same individual had entered Madison House (which is not University property) through an unlocked door on November 9, was asked by Madison House staff to leave the premises, and complied. Neither the UPD nor the Charlottesville Police are aware of any criminal acts having been committed by this individual. I am also advised that area police have investigated this man’s background and have discovered no evidence of any prior violent acts or propensity to act in a violent manner. If you are aware of other incidents that warrant police intervention, please dial 911 and make a report.
- One of the e-mails forwarded to me makes reference to a male who has been seen in the stacks in Alderman Library loitering for long periods, and who has allegedly attempted to look up the dress of one or more female students. The UPD has contacted Alderman Library staff and neither they nor the UPD have a record of anyone making a report of such activity. The UPD is continuing to investigate this in light of the e-mail forwarded to me by students yesterday.
- This same e-mail also makes reference to an alleged rape occurring within the past week in the area of 15th Street and Wertland Avenue. The UPD has not received a report of a rape or sexual assault occurring in that area during the past few weeks, nor has the Charlottesville Police received such a report to our knowledge. If someone was the victim of such an assault or knows facts relevant to this allegation, I hope that they will contact the police or my office immediately.
It is critical that all students understand that the UPD and the Charlottesville Police want you to dial 911 to immediately report any activity that appears threatening or makes you uncomfortable for your safety. Time is a critical factor in such situations. You should also notify my office as soon as possible so that we may consider whether further action or communication to the wider student community is warranted. Also, before circulating an e-mail you receive regarding allegations of criminal conduct on or near Grounds, contact the UPD or my office to verify that what you have received is, in fact, accurate. Misinformation can often be as dangerous as no information, and the UPD and my office want to partner with you to make our community as safe as possible.
Since I have your attention, I want to reinforce some general safety tips. Yes, you have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. That means taking off the earphones when walking at night. Walk with friends, take a late-night weekend UTS bus, or call SafeRide (242-1122) rather than walking alone. Do not allow a stranger to “tailgate” you into a residence hall after you swipe your access card, no matter how “normal” that person may appear to you. If you are studying in one of the libraries and notice a suspicious person or activities, remove yourself from the situation and call 911 or report your concerns to the person staffing the library’s front desk (who is trained to assist students). If you see suspicious activity, immediately dial 911 (or use a blue light phone on Grounds to immediately connect to the UPD) and provide all pertinent details to police. If you live off Grounds, get to know your neighbors and look out for one another. Talk with your landlord about replacing burned out exterior lights or lowering overgrown hedges that create opportunities for criminal activity around your living area. Contact the Off-Grounds Housing Manager located in my Peabody Hall office if you need help in this regard.
Your safety is our highest priority. I hope you will contact me should you have any questions regarding the issues covered in this e-mail or your safety generally.
Allen W. Groves
Dean of Students