Senate Council discusses blanket incident, campus safety


Zoom screenshot

From left, Patrick Gallagher, chancellor, Robin Kear, Senate Council president and Kris Kanthak, Senate Council vice president at a meeting in 2700 Posvar hall on Thursday.

By Allison Radziwon, Staff Writer

Student Government Board President Harshitha Ramanan said Thursday that one of the most pressing concerns of the student body in light of recent events is getting University administration to listen to them.

Ramanan said after a Wednesday evening Pitt police statement detailing a recent incident near campus where a man tried to “drape” a blanket around a student’s shoulders, the University administration and police need to listen to student concerns and fears for safety on campus.

“Realistically, we know that our reports are either going to be disregarded or take too long to get processed,” Ramanan said. “I’m asking you to listen to me and the other 18,000 or so students who are telling you that we are afraid to walk home at night around our school, because we are worried about getting raped, kidnapped and killed. But most of all, we are worried that no one is listening to us.”

Pitt’s Senate Council held its monthly meeting on Thursday afternoon both in person at Posvar Hall and on Zoom. The council spent much of the meeting discussing the incident and safety concerns.

In response to Ramanan, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said both Pitt and City police are investigating the incident. He also said “police presence” has increased on campus, and they are investigating what the police statement referred to as “multiple parallel, but undocumented and unsubstantiated incidents” attributed to the man which are circulating on social media.

Gallagher said he knows social media has caused both confusion and concerns for students.

“I know there’s been some confusion on the emergency report system and the technicalities of whether to report a crime and so forth. It is an active police matter — it is being addressed,” Gallagher said. “I’m quite aware this was also creating a lot of concerns in our student-dense areas that were aware of these multiple reports. I just want to reassure you that it’s not being ignored.”

Shilpa Sant, an associate professor in the School of Pharmacy, said she did not receive “email communication” about the incident from Pitt. She also said some students have told her they did not receive any communication from the University, while others said they received an “email notification” about it. She said some students only received information about the incident from social media.

“I think there is a lot of concern about the communication among students. I get a lot of students that are confused. Basically they don’t know whether this is true or this is all a rumor,” Sant said. “It’s really our responsibility to make sure that we get a consistent message and do a better job of communication.”

Sant said Pitt should improve shuttle access for those traveling home at night.

“Pitt shuttles need to do a better job, especially at late hours,” Sant said. “Some students wait a long time to get back to their dorms or housing after late classes.”

Gallagher also said to download the Rave Guardian App, which can be used to contact police immediately in emergency situations. He said Rave also uses “geolocation,” which helps the police “immediately locate” those who need help. Gallagher said SafeRider — a complimentary transportation service for Pitt and Chatham students during late night and early morning hours — is another great option.

Gallagher said he will follow up with Ramanan to increase communication with students. 

“We are also, as I said, looking at additional communication support, realizing that particularly in this age of social media you have to push this out in a lot of important ways,” Gallagher said. “We’ll follow up with you afterwards to make sure that communication is effective.”

In honor of Veteran’s Day on Thursday, Gallagher acknowledged veterans in the Pitt community, such as current students, faculty, staff and alumni. He said Pitt is ranked as the No. 1 university for veterans in Pennsylvania and No. 29 in the country. 

Gallagher also addressed Pitt’s new COVID-19 vaccination requirement and said an increase in vaccination rates is “well underway.”

“I’m not going to cover COVID, which is kind of remarkable,” Gallagher said. “The CMRO released their update today. Things have been quite stable on campus and good progress has been made on vaccination on all campuses.” 

Senate Council President Robin Kear said she is “glad” Pitt will require COVID-19 vaccinations starting on Dec. 6 and for the spring term. She also said travel policies put in place for COVID-19 — including the existing travel policy and the temporary COVID-19 guidelines for travel — are being “reconsidered.”

Gallagher also mentioned the faculty vote in October to form a union. Gallagher said he’s “not sure” what the next step is after the vote, as administration and faculty are still working towards a collective bargaining agreement — where employees negotiate employment contracts with employers through a union. 

“What I wanted to remind everyone of what hasn’t changed. And that’s our commitment to working together with all faculty, all students and all staff on how we support and operate this University,” Gallagher said. “Pitt remains fully committed to shared governance and working together to make the very best University we can.”