WEST CHESTER >> It’s not just students and parents who have thoughts and concerns about heading back to college campuses. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is serious about preventing drug and alcohol abuse on campus, while at the same time addressing mental health issues and sexual assault.
During a Thursday press conference at West Chester University, the state’s top cop told a packed meeting room about a new campus safety initiative.
Shapiro unveiled plans for a series of roundtable discussions across the Commonwealth will involve the input of students, law enforcement personnel, victim advocates, teachers and other staffers to identify strategies to promote public health and safety issues.
The roundtable will take place during the current academic year at Dickinson College, Lincoln University, Slippery Rock College and the University of Pittsburgh.
The state’s highest ranking law enforcement officer talked with those at West Chester about his role as a father, a husband and attorney general.
Shapiro noted that his daughter will become a college freshman next year. He talked about dropping her off at her new home.
“When parents drive away from campus it’s very appropriate to be a little sad, but they shouldn’t be worried,” the attorney general said. “We will ensure that these parents have to worry a little bit less.”
Shapiro said that the team will listen to students about the challenges they face. Pennsylvania is home to 750,000 students, at 200 colleges and universities.
Alcohol abuse is tied to several public health issues. Nearly 70 percent of sexual assaults are alcohol-fueled by an intoxicated perpetrator and 43 percent involve an intoxicated victim.
Some 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol abuse and 862 Pennsylvanians between the ages of 15 and 24 perished from drug abuse in 2016.
District attorneys from Chester and Montgomery counties, and Philadelphia, support the attorney general’s initiative.
“A gentleman never does anything that a lady does not want to do,” said Tom Hogan, Chester County district attorney. “If you are that type of man … you are not a man – not a gentleman – you are a beast.”
Hogan said that females also have a responsibility, suggesting they should not be alone and drunk in a frat house basement at 2 a.m.
Philadelphia District Attorney Kelley Hodge told the audience that we should “engage” in conversation and make sure to focus on what is necessary.
“This requires a lot of listening … you have to do a lot of homework and recording,” Kelley said. “We send our children off to college to learn and hopefully make them a well-rounded and better person.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele also attended.
“This is where we need to go, where we need to work together,” Steele said. “We can prevent this through education. I’m encouraged that we’re moving in the right direction but we have a long way to go.”
Student leader Sabrina Glass is seeking to completely abolish sexual assault on campus, with a focus on healthy masculinity and unhealthy masculinity.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19 of West Goshen, said that while solving problems, those problems have to be addressed within the context of the institution.
Shapiro took a question from the audience.
He said that victims reporting a crime deserve respect and to not be stigmatized.
“When they come forward and report, that complaint should be funneled through an appropriate process,” Shapiro said. “They need to have confidence in that process.
“We will not tolerate administrators sweeping this under the rug. It’s not your fault. We have to support you and make sure resources are here to support you.”
WCU was near the top of a list rating the nation’s safest colleges and universities, as determined by a trade association of home security professionals. It was only one of two Pennsylvania colleges to be included on the list.
Carolyn Comitta, D-156, watched the presentation from the first row.
“It’s a good start and West Chester University is a leader in many areas,” Comitta said. “I’m so proud they’ve earned the recognition as one of the safest universities.
“ Keeping our citizens safe, especially our young people, is the number one job of elected officials at every level.”