‘Very unsettling’: Students have mixed reactions to Pitt’s response to Cathedral of Learning assault


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

The Cathedral of Learning.

By James Paul, Staff Writer

For John Alston, the heightened security presence in the Cathedral of Learning following a reported sexual assault inside the building, is “unsettling,” especially for Pitt’s Black community.  

“I think the increase of cops is kind of hurting the Black community at Pitt,” Alston, a first-year film major, said. “I mean, not all cops are bad, but like, you know, there’s still the possibility of one of the stories.”

Following the reported assault in the Cathedral stairwell, Pitt Police Chief James Loftus said they’ve “added personnel and are using guards from an outside agency to supplement and to augment what we currently have to increase the eyes we have in places such as the Cathedral.” He said this includes adding more cameras in the Cathedral as well as more security personnel in the Cathedral stairwells. There are currently 75 cameras.

“Like we do after every incident, we and our partners are conducting a review of our security measures and policies, which include considerations such as card access, personnel deployment, and communication methods,” Loftus said.  

Students had mixed reactions to the increase in security with some raising concerns about the risks for people of color, while others say it makes them feel more safe.

Loftus did not directly respond to questions about how many security guards were on campus prior to the incident, nor did he answer how many security guards have been added since the incident. They also didn’t provide details on how the decisions were made about where and how to increase security on campus. 

Alston wants to see consequences for the perpetrator of the Cathedral assault, but he said he doesn’t know what that would take. He’s worried that heightened policing could potentially have risks for students of color, and that they could be seen as a threat. Large-scale protests across the country and in Pittsburgh following George Floyd’s murder addressed discriminatory policing in the U.S. 

“Obviously with BLM and police brutality, [increased security] would make Black people at Pitt feel a little bit unsafe,” Alston said. “It’s like we might get targeted one of these days, or we might not have the same type of security that we thought we would have.”

Nevaeh Williams, a sophomore German major, also said she knows the impact that increased policing has on Black people and fears that the threat of discriminatory practice makes it an ineffective response. 

Williams said she doesn’t think the guards are particularly effective anyway, since she said it seems like they often aren’t doing much besides “[hanging] out with their buddies” while on the clock.  

However, some students aren’t as opposed to the heightened security. Alissa Beggan, a junior biology major, said the public location of the attack puts her general sense of safety in question, and that the higher number of guards in the Cathedral are helping her feel safer. 

“The security guards definitely do play a big role in making it feel safer here,” Beggan said. “In Hillman [library], not 15 minutes go by where a security guard isn’t walking right past you. So, I think that’s definitely a good thing that Pitt does.” 

Marnae Penn, a first-year biology major, said while she supports the increase in security personnel and cameras, she’s surprised by how few cameras there were to begin with. 

“I feel like we should have more cameras,” Penn said, “The fact that we had 75, you should have been able to see who was walking in and out of that stairwell, or what happened in that stairwell.”

Beyond visibility, Penn said the increase in security doesn’t do much to ensure her sense of safety. 

“I feel like it makes a difference, but it doesn’t make that really big of a difference,” Penn said. “Anything can happen on the 36th floor and they’re only patrolling the first floor. So it’s like how fast are they gonna really be able to get up there before someone gets away?”