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Holloway addresses mass shooting prevention, U. sexual assault policies at RUSA town hall

University President Jonathan Holloway spoke to students and community members at a town hall hosted by the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA).  – Photo by @rutgersusca and @rusa.nb / Instagram

On Thursday, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) held a town hall where students, faculty and staff raised questions to University President Jonathan Holloway.

The meeting began with a moment of silence for victims of the recent shooting at Michigan State University led by Assembly President Allison Smith, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. She said that while the act does not supplement actual remedies, it demonstrates solidarity with a fellow Big Ten Conference school.

Holloway initiated his presentation shortly after, thanking Smith for hosting the event and explaining the University-wide email regarding the mass shooting on February 14.

At that point, he spoke about the delicate nature of life in the wake of the gun violence in Michigan and the fatal car collision of Rutgers student Max Spivak, a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences.

He closed off his discussion about the recent occurrences by acknowledging the need to expand access to student resources and encourage individuals to seek out aid.

Holloway then transitioned into speaking about various development plans at the University, including the Academic Master Plan and prospective opportunities for collaboration with Rutgers—Camden and Rutgers—Newark.

The master plan seeks to improve student graduation rates and wellness by increasing access to mental health resources and educational opportunities, as previously reported by The Daily Targum.

Holloway then discussed safe spaces and freedoms related to academia and speech on campus. He said he wants to defend the abilities of individuals to advocate their views, regardless of his perspective.

"If I stop protecting the right to speak, then someone else can stop someone who actually I agree with," he said. "Because then you start going into their whole new playing field, where we are now a judge, jury and executioner of who can speak at any given moment. That's not the place to be. A university is about open inquiry, and that is about making things really uncomfortable."

Following this presentation, Holloway began to address questions from the in-person audience and questions submitted online.

Assembly Secretary Aarushi Fernandez, a School of Engineering junior, asked Holloway what the University does to support students financially during their time at Rutgers and upon graduation.

In response, Holloway said that the Scarlet Guarantee, a grant tuition program, helps students regardless of their income. Beyond this, he said that the University is trying to navigate the personal challenges individuals face due to their family size and other factors.

The next question asked about the University's plans to achieve carbon neutrality in light of Gov. Phil Murphy's (D-N.J.) recent climate address.

Holloway said that at the beginning of his tenure as president, he was approached by student activists who proposed a list of different demands related to climate justice. While he agrees with the students' propositions, he said that the time required to achieve them varies.

Holloway then said that while he was not aware of all the details of Murphy's announcement, he would be surprised if the University and the government were in disagreement with one another.

"Some of the things that the governor mentioned or signed in the executive order, which I do not know what they are, might be absolutely brilliant and actually unaffordable at this moment," he said.

Holloway was then asked about how student responses to Student Instructional Rating Surveys (SIRS), often issued at the end of each semester, are taken into consideration.

To answer the question, Holloway passed the microphone to Francine Conway, chancellor-provost of Rutgers—New Brunswick.

Conway said each department could adjust the form to fit their department and faculty's needs but that the information received does affect how courses are administered and the resources faculty receive in teaching them.

Holloway then said that the feedback provided in SIRS could be used to affect administrative decisions related to job promotions and management. Though the forms' responses also need to be reviewed for bias, he said.

An audience member then asked Holloway about precautions the University will take regarding mass shootings. He responded by saying that Kenneth Cop, chief of the Rutgers University Police Department, will be working on possible initiatives with students in the coming weeks to address this issue.

Holloway said the University would be taking preventative measures by working with students to report suspicious instances but could not take steps such as requiring swipe access into classroom buildings.

"This year, there are more officers doing the joint patrols," he said. "There are more officers actually walking beats there and more community policing than ever before. Your safety is paramount. That's our number one concern."

The final question Holloway was asked pertained to the way sexual assault is addressed on campus.

Nicole Kane, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she was informed by the Director of Student Affairs Compliance & Title IX that the definition of sexual assault, regardless of whether it occurs when an individual is clothed or not, only includes acts of penetration.

She said that such a policy is dangerous to members of the Rutgers community, regardless of gender, and she wanted to know if the University would be modifying this approach.

Holloway then passed the microphone to Salvador B. Mena, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, who said he did not believe the definition of sexual assault on campus was not limited to acts that include penetration.

Though, he said that sometimes, individuals accused of sexual assault might simply not be found responsible for the act they were accused of. Regardless, should an act be inappropriate, sexual or physical in nature, he said it should result in accountability.

Smith also responded to the question and said that throughout the month of March, her administration would be collaborating with the office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance to address public safety on campus and would appreciate working with Kane.

Before leaving, Holloway closed the discussion by saying that Kane was relaying her story correctly and that the issue may have arisen elsewhere in the investigative system. He said that discussions like hers exemplified the importance of participating in the Assembly.

"Your voices do matter, certainly to the administration," he said. "And (the Assembly), I know, in particular, as (Smith) just said, was quite dedicated to being not just your ally but your advocate in that regard."

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