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University of Utah responds to ESPN+ McCluskey documentary

Editor’s note: In response to a new ESPN+ documentary about Lauren McCluskey’s murder, university leaders will host a series of listening sessions in the coming weeks to give students and other members of the campus community the opportunity to ask questions and learn about systemic changes made to safety on campus over the past four years. Information about those sessions will be posted shortly.

More than four years ago, on Oct. 22, 2018, University of Utah student athlete Lauren McCluskey tragically and needlessly lost her life on our campus. Her murder left an indelible mark on this institution.

“The University of Utah will forever mourn Lauren and share in the grief of her family members and friends,” said Taylor Randall, university president. “Being transparent and accountable is the only way forward. We have learned from that tragic event and are applying those hard-earned lessons in an effort to continuously improve and set a national standard for safety practices at a public university.”

Read the president’s full statement here.

Lauren McCluskey’s legacy lives on in tangible and intangible ways on the University of Utah’s campus. These changes include:

  • A reinvigorated public safety department where 70% of sworn officers and 94% of all other employees are experienced in law enforcement and safety, but new to the U.
  • The public safety department is now housed in a new $14 million, state-of-the-art Public Safety Building that is home to victim advocates, comfortable “soft” interview rooms, and an expanded dispatch center that is linked to Salt Lake City Police.
  • Public Safety hosted the first campus safety conference on March 2, where Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, founder of the McCluskey Foundation and professor and director of Washington State University’s School of Economic Sciences, presented.
  • And, university leaders are working closely with the McCluskey family to raise funds to design and build a top-tier indoor track facility that will be named after Lauren McCluskey.

At the same time, the campus community has changed. University Police have shifted the way they approach initial interviews with victim-survivors. Racist and Bias Incident Response Team (RBIRT) members analyze and report cases of sexism, homophobia, hate speech and hate crimes as they are notified, to alert the campus community to possible threats. A new Clery Act coordinator is dedicated to tracking and regularly reporting to the public cases of dating violence, stalking and other crimes on campus. The Public Safety Department also maintains new campus crime dashboards and a “heat map” with nearly-real-time reporting of incidents across campus.

All of these advancements can be credited to the lessons painfully learned from Lauren’s case.

“Families from around the world entrust their most precious people to us—children, parents, siblings, friends and loved ones,” said Keith Squires, chief safety officer. “We strive every day to create places of welcome and belonging for all, while keeping the dangers of society out. We have learned from these experiences and we will move forward with purpose.”

As university leaders said at the time of the institution’s settlement with the McCluskey family on October 22, 2020:

The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation. As a result, we failed Lauren and her family. If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide their responses, the university believes they would have been better equipped to protect Lauren.

University leaders, in partnership with the McCluskey family, are dedicated to making certain her death was not in vain. Lauren’s death forced the university to reckon with systemic training, process and management issues in its police department, siloed campus operations and incomplete employee training and communication, particularly around the issue of intimate partner violence. It also highlighted gaps in collaboration between University Police, the Utah Department of Corrections and Adult Probation & Parole.

In the four years since that horrific day, the university has reimagined and innovated campus safety, implementing a comprehensive safety plan which includes establishing a chief safety officer to oversee all public safety responsibilities on campus, building a state-of-the-art public safety building and establishing the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education.

These efforts cannot change the past, but we remain diligent and work hard every day to make the University of Utah campus a much safer place for all of our students.