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A Message from the President: Let’s Strive for Safety

November 10, 2014

University communities need to be safe and provide an environment that is conducive to learning and the pursuit of goals and dreams. As president, I am deeply committed to ensure that we have the safest environment possible at the University of Wyoming.

When one of our students was killed and another seriously injured in separate altercations on Halloween night, I was alarmed and deeply saddened. Even though the incidents took place off campus at private residences not under UW jurisdiction, the death of Joe McGowan trying to break up a fight in the 700 block of Seventh Street, and the injury of Luke McConville and several fellow students in an altercation in the 1100 block of Flint Street, are serious matters for our university community.

I have spoken with the parents of both Joe and Luke, to express my condolences and offer any support and assistance the university can provide. A memorial service for Joe is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 16, at the Lander Community Center. I and other members of UW administration will attend the service. On a somewhat happier note, Luke has been discharged from the hospital and has returned home.

My conversations with the wonderful and gracious parents of Joe and Luke affected me deeply. The events of Halloween night have caused me to explore what we as a community can do to reduce the likelihood that I’ll need to have similar conversations with any other parents in the future.

Because the incidents are in the court system, with criminal charges filed against non-students, I’m unable to provide details of exactly what happened to cause Joe’s death due to head trauma and Luke’s serious head injuries. But our UW Police Department and Laramie Police Department, which work together on incidents like these, say with certainty that alcohol was a factor in both cases. There’s no question that impaired judgment caused by excessive drinking regularly leads to fights and other serious incidents.

Illegal and excessive use of alcohol has long been an issue for UW and Laramie, as is the case with university towns across the country. I won’t pretend that I or anyone else can bring about the culture change that is required to eliminate the problem. But I would hope that Joe’s death and Luke’s injuries will cause all of us to take a look at ourselves and our community, and see if there isn’t something we can change to make things better.

The university is undergoing just such a reassessment right now. We do have our AWARE Program, which encourages the safe, legal and responsible use of alcohol to help students to make healthy choices regarding alcohol use. You are all aware of the mandatory online alcohol education program for incoming freshmen. There are other prevention activities including alcohol awareness events and presentations.

Other related student safety efforts include Safe Ride, the free shuttle service that UW’s TransPark coordinates for students and community members; TIPS, a responsible beverage server training program; and the AWARE intervention program for students who receive alcohol-related citations. Through the A-Team community-wide coalition, UW leaders and experts meet regularly with professionals in our community to address alcohol issues and proactive efforts to reduce harm. The university also offers alcohol-free, alternative late-night programs for students.

Should we be doing more? That’s the question we’re considering now, and I welcome your ideas and thoughts as we assess ourselves in the aftermath of these tragedies.

In the meantime, please take a look at yourself and your circle of friends to see if there are steps you can take to be safer. If you need help, or know someone who does, please take advantage of the resources we have on campus. Those include the UW Counseling Center and AWARE Program, 766-2187 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) or 766-8989 after hours; the UWPD, 766-5179; and the Dean of Students Office, 766-3296.

UW is a great university, and Laramie is a wonderful, safe community. Let’s do everything we can to prevent tragic incidents like those that occurred on Halloween.

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Phone: (307) 766-2929


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