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Virginia Tech launches SafeWatch to further promote an inclusive community


BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 27, 2006 – To further support a diverse and inclusive campus community, Virginia Tech has launched “SafeWatch”— a new university program that promotes individual and collective responsibility among students, faculty, staff, and guests, and encourages them to incorporate the Virginia Tech Principles of Community into their interpersonal and intergroup relationships. Patterned after the “neighborhood watch” program, SafeWatch will promote understanding of university policies and community expectations related to harassment, discrimination, or similar behaviors, and provide a way to report instances when policies and expectations are not followed.

“Building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive environment is an ongoing process,” said Zenobia Hikes, vice president for student affairs. “The SafeWatch program is evidence that the Virginia Tech community is taking another positive step toward building such a community. The program will help us assess campus climate issues more effectively, and provide community members with an additional way to engage in dialog that supports a welcoming and safe environment.”

Central to the program is a new SafeWatch website that provides a means for community members to report occurrences of discrimination or harassment related to age, color, disability, gender, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, and veterans’ status.

The program will be coordinated by the Division of Student Affairs, but is designed to respond to the needs of all members of the university community. Reports submitted through the website will be received by the Office of Student Life during regular business hours, Monday through Friday. Each reported incident will be reviewed, and appropriate referrals and follow up will be made. Information collected through the SafeWatch program will be regularly reviewed, providing another tool for monitoring campus climate.

SafeWatch is not an emergency notification service. Those who find themselves in an emergency situation or feel their safety is at risk should call 911 or Virginia Tech Police immediately.

The website also provides a list of campus resources to help students, faculty, staff, and guests find additional assistance.

“Providing community members one more way to be heard, especially if there are incidents of harassment or discrimination, is essential to maintaining a healthy campus climate,” said Benjamin Dixon, vice president for multicultural affairs. “When concerns are expressed, we need to respond appropriately, and we need to let all members of the university community know that this is important and that we will respond.”

In addition to the SafeWatch website, other campus initiatives will continue under the SafeWatch project umbrella. Policies and staff training procedures in the Office of Residence Life, for example, have been reviewed to assess their effectiveness in addressing specific climate issues. “Best practices” and a training manual are under development to help deans, faculty, graduate teaching assistants, and unit managers respond in a timely and appropriate manner to student or employee behaviors that do not conform to the Virginia Tech Principles of Community or university policies. Partnerships with organizations and agencies in the New River Valley are also being explored in an effort to extend a positive climate beyond campus.

Endorsed by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors last year, the Principles of Community affirms the university's commitment to a diverse and inclusive community. The endorsement of the board, in concert with those from President Charles W. Steger, the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Assembly, the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, and the university's Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity, signaled a campus-wide effort to articulate and emphasize the value and importance of diversity in the Virginia Tech community.

“It is critically important for all of us in the Virginia Tech community to fully embrace and live out our Principles of Community,” said Provost Mark McNamee. “The SafeWatch program is a terrific initiative because it calls us to put those principles into practice.”