The VCU Police Department held an open forum with members of the LGBT community on Aug. 24 to spread awareness about safety precautions for students and receive feedback on changes the department made to better protect LGBT students.
Donna Coghill, a member of VCU PD’s LGBTQ+ Safety Advisory Committee, said the goal of the forum is to receive feedback from the LGBT community, which in return is incorporated into training and equipping officers to promote a healthier and safer environment on campus.
Of the 66 reported cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking in the past six months, 4.5 percent of them have involved someone from a same-sex relationship. The percentage has seen a drop since 2015 which had 5.6 percent of total reported cases involved someone from a same-sex relationship.
VCU’s percentages are far lower than the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a report on intimate partner violence among individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The Center found that 44 percent of lesbian couples and 27 percent of gay couples are survivors of assault.
VCU Police Chief John Venuti, who has been with VCUPD since 2010, said he has seen a major change in interaction with the LGBT community since he first started working at the university.
“When I got here in 2010, I didn’t like what I was seeing or what I was hearing in the walls of my building,” Venuti said. “Now, we have over 40 allies with Safe Zone training, which is required for all academy members along with a transgender sensitivity training.”
VCU Safe Zone is a program that is implemented by the Counseling Services to reduce homophobia and heterosexism on campus. VCU PD encourages, but not requires, their officers and personnel to partake in the training. Now, LGBT students can request a Safe Zone trained officer at any point when reporting or confiding in a campus officer.
Along with the Safe Zone training, VCU PD introduced a transgender sensitivity training. The department hopes that these trainings will help students become more comfortable with reporting incidents.
“The difference is like day and night,” Coghill said. “I can definitely say from our end that we are better able to serve and connect with the students.”
On the Campus Pride Index, Which gives scores to colleges and universities based on their “friendliness” to LGBT students, VCU has an overall rating of 3.5 out of 5. In a section which scores universities based on their campus’ safety for LGBT students, the site gave VCU a 1 out of 5 star rating regarding campus safety.
Coghill said the rating is in regard to circumstances outside of VCU PD’s jurisdiction, including classroom conduct, professor-student interactions and resources on campus.
If a student is concerned about campus safety, the index displays what mechanisms are or are not in place for students to access on campus.
“At the end of the day, we treat each person with the same respect and dignity, and make sure they have a place where they can turn to if they need it,” Venuti said.
Staff Writer, Hiba Ahmad