April 8, 2005
Nearly three years ago, an Arizona State University women’s faculty group called the campus dangerous for women and recommended specific changes to improve safety for coeds.
While the report by the ASU Commission on the Status of Women resulted in numerous changes, not all of the recommendations were implemented.
Now, after the shooting death of a former football player, ASU President Michael Crow is embracing many of the ideas in an investigation he says will examine whether more campus changes will prevent similar tragedies.
Former ASU football player Loren Wade, 21, has been charged with first-degree murder in the March 26 shooting of Brandon Falkner, 25, an ASU defensive back from 1999 to 2001.
Police say that in the months before the shooting outside a Scottsdale nightclub, Wade threatened his girlfriend, former ASU soccer player Haley van Blommestein, gymnast Trisha Dixon, and a former soccer player who has not been identified.
Wade also was involved in two fights at fraternity parties and carried a handgun, police said.
Football coach Dirk Koetter was told by the ASU soccer coach in the weeks before the shooting that Wade might be armed. When Koetter asked van Blommestein about Wade being armed, she said he wasn’t. Wade remained on the team.
The shooting is exactly the kind of simmering domestic violence situation that concerned the women’s group three years ago.
Moreover, many coeds interviewed earlier this week said they are concerned about violence on campus and particularly in the dorms. Most said they had no idea how to access campus resources and programs that could help them in domestic violence situations.
In the early 1990s, the Arizona Board of Regents created the Commission on the Status of Women to improve opportunities for women at Arizona’s three public universities. In 2002, the commission reported about its accomplishments but emphasized that "significant problems, however, remain."
Among other things, the commission cited concern for the physical safety of women students and recommended that athletes and fraternities receive special training on preventing bias, violence, and alcohol and drug abuse, that students be trained about ASU’s safety resources and that the university widely distribute a list of ASU officials who should be contacted in case of safety concerns.
ASU officials said sexual assault education is now mandatory for athletes, but not for all students.
In the last week, Crow has implemented other policies, including requiring students and employees who know about weapons violations to report them or face sanctions. Weapons are banned on campus, and students or employees who make verified threats of violence will be required to submit to a mental health evaluation and face dismissal from the university.
A committee, composed largely of nonathletic department employees, will be created to arbitrate violations of the student athletic code, Crow said last week.
ASU spokeswoman Terri Shafer said the campus is not unusually hostile or dangerous for women.
Last year, the ASU Department of Public Safety responded to 24 domestic violence incidents on the 50,000-student campus, compared with eight in each of the previous two years.
In the Wade case, van Blommestein contacted police at least twice about threats but the police didn’t notify ASU. It’s not clear whether she sought help from ASU counseling centers.
The college pumps millions of dollars a year into more than half a dozen agencies and training programs that deal with domestic violence, assault and other relationship violence cases, according to budget figures provided by Shafer.
ASU has several facilities apart from the campus police station where students can report domestic violence, sexual assaults or threats. Those include the Student Health center, the Counseling and Consultation office and resources in the dorms. If the student is willing to press charges, campus police file a report.
Another agency, the Health Education and Wellness Department, spends about 20 percent of its budget on educational programs and services to prevent sexual assault and relationship violence.
The department also trains all athletes on preventing sexual assault and alcohol and drug abuse during orientation each year. Athletes are also required to take a life skills class that, among other things, teaches appropriate responses in personal and social situations, and includes anger management and violence prevention, Shafer said.
Complaints about relationship violence are handled by Student Judicial Affairs or the Advocacy and Assistance organization. Offenders face penalties from warnings to expulsion.
These sanctions are outlined in the Student Code of Conduct, which is also available online. If a situation is serious, they can get the offender off campus the same day.
Shafer said Judicial Affairs handles approximately 1,500 cases each year, including many relationship issues that don’t involve violence. Domestic violence cases are not common, she said.
Despite what appears to be a wealth of well-funded resources, ASU coeds say they still worry about their safety at times. And, they say, they aren’t sure where to go for help.
"I think it’s not so safe," said Kunbi Disu, a 17-year-old freshman who lives in the Palo Verde main dorm. "I was sleeping in my bed one night and I woke up to two guys hiding in my room. They knew my suitemate but they came in through my bathroom door and I thought it was an invasion of privacy."
Shana O’Connor, 18, a freshman who lives in student housing, said the university does not inform students where to go for domestic violence help. She also believes athletes are treated differently, that the school is more lenient with them.
Leeda Safa, 21, of Scottsdale, said she wouldn’t know where to go for domestic violence.
"Probably student services, but I don’t know if that’s the right place," she said.
Ashley Hernandez, 18, a freshman who lives in ASU housing, said she was harassed by a male student at the dorm who made sexual comments to her.
When she told a housing director about it, she had to move into a new dorm
that day, but the offender received only a warning.
"I’ve never experienced this before so I don’t know if the university did a good job or not," Hernandez said. "I did feel unsafe at the time though."
One student, 19-year-old Kelly Vanyo who lives in the San Pablo dorm, said she does think ASU has a good domestic violence program.
"I think they do a good job with domestic violence issues here," she said. "They always offer self-defense classes for women in the school paper. I learned in school to go to the wellness center if I’m a victim."