I understand you may have questions and concerns about the challenging time we continue to face in the St. Louis region. Though we hope for a peaceful resolution to the regional tension we have experienced since August, we are taking this situation very seriously. As we anticipate a decision from the grand jury in police officer Darren Wilson’s case, we have taken every precaution to maintain the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.
No doubt, anxiety was heightened yesterday by the announcement from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon that he has taken necessary steps to allow the Missouri National Guard to support St. Louis law enforcement organizations. His action was procedural and not entirely unexpected. The governor already had indicated that the National Guard likely would be placed on stand-by as a precaution in case additional support is required.
At this point, we have experienced very little in the way of protest activity on or near our campus, and all has been peaceful. However, none of us can predict what might transpire over the coming days and weeks so we are working to be well prepared for any situation.
The Washington University Police Department (WUPD) under the command of Chief Don Strom, is a highly-trained, well-resourced unit with professional law enforcement personnel in its ranks. Chief Strom himself came to the university with experience leading a municipal police force. He is an effective leader who has built strong working relationships with the surrounding jurisdictions, including the St. Louis City Metropolitan Police and the St. Louis County Police. The open-lines of communication with law enforcement organizations throughout the region have been very helpful in assessing the situation and any areas of concern.
In partnership with WUPD, a group of senior university representatives has conducted a thorough review of the university’s Emergency Response Plan. They have considered procedures, protocols, infrastructure, and communications and we have a solid approach in place to manage an emergency. If and when it might become necessary, we will activate a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week Emergency Operations Center to manage any necessary response across all of our university functions. We have a structure in place to keep our university community informed of developments through regular updates via text message, email message, social media, and/or website channels depending on the urgency of our communications.
At the same time, we know that some of our students will continue to want to express concern and engage in public dialogue. We are advising students to seriously consider all of the potential risks of participating in off-campus protests that could compromise their safety and well-being. If they do decide to participate, we have shared important steps to take, including, for example, letting a parent or friend know of their whereabouts. We also are offering alternative activities on campus through which students can express concern and perspective. Beginning on the day of the grand jury announcement, a series of “Talking Circles” will create a safe, non-judgmental place to discuss the issues.
Lastly, we understand that what is happening in St. Louis may cause stress for our students, and we encourage anyone in need of support to seek out the many resources that we have available, including their resident advisers, residential college directors, professors, and academic advisers. The Habif Health and Wellness Center provides extensive services for students, which can be accessed at shs.wustl.edu, by calling 314-935-6666 or by stopping in at the center, which is located on the South 40.
Knowing that you may be some distance from St. Louis, you may be interested in an option for maintaining a sense of what is occurring on our main Danforth Campus. We have seven webcams throughout the campus that will give you a live view. To access the webcams, go to wustl.edu/about/sightsandsounds and scroll down to the bottom of the page.
You might also want to bookmark the following websites at which we will be posting helpful information: voices.wustl.edu and emergency.wustl.edu.
If you did not receive this message directly, but would like to be kept informed via email you may share your contact information by sending a note to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, we are taking this situation very seriously. Your child’s safety and well-being is our highest priority. If I can do anything further to respond to your concern, please let me know.
Mark S. Wrighton