You Have a DukeALERT…ever ask why?

What constitutes a DukeAlert?

True Blue | Brett Finkelstein | March 3, 2016

  • Copied

To undisclosed-recipients:

– – –

“Brett ([and Rival readers]),

Apologies for the delay in getting back to you. At this time, we’re not available for an interview on this topic, but I can provide the following statement for you.

DukeALERT notices are sent out as necessary to inform the campus community of events or circumstances that may impact the safety of individuals on campus or the continuity of campus operations. The decision to send a DukeALERT notice is based on the unique circumstances of the situation and in compliance with the Clery Act.”

Signed, Assistant Vice President of Communication Services.

– – –

Have you noticed the emergency notifications we get through the system, or is it only me? When it’s a snow day, you get hourly updates on the winter weather advisory and the operations of Duke facilities, buses and vendors on campus. Then, (thankfully), we get alerts that tell us when to hide from sudden tornadoes and when we’re free to leave the building. Mix those in with the regularly expected notifications of a stand up, robbery, or other dangerous run-in on Central Campus, and you’ve got the total package… Right?

Or is there something missing?

What about a DukeALERT notice of sexual harassment? Sexual assault? Certainly there are limitations on what exactly a DukeALERT can tell us, but it makes you wonder… What constitutes the threshold value for information worth alerting the entire school system about? What do we think is “necessary” to alert the entire Duke community of and who gets to decide?

According to the Clery Act, which was passed in 1990, colleges and universities which receive federal funding are required “to share information about crime on campus and their efforts to improve campus safety as well as inform the public of crime in or around campus”. Though seemingly simple in theory, these reporting obligations become more problematic and complicated in practice, both in terms of timeliness and content.

These DukeALERTs come with links to the Duke Emergency Status information website, following further standards set by the Clery Act. The site brings together all the up-to-date and need-to-know information on classes, buses, health and emergency services, vendors, etc. This is available information, and easily accessible information at that.

But what about the information that I don’t yet know that I want to know? What about potential threats, rather than threats that have already been realized? And no, I’m not talking about DukeALERTs for upcoming weather advisories.

For example, when a potentially threatening man was identified on this campus just a few weeks ago, (after several known incidents had occurred), a separate type of independent emergency alert was circulated through my own networks of friends and other organizations to outline the details. This alert came with a picture of the student in question, a short note about the recent incidences that made him threatening, and what was being done to address them. It aimed to make women aware of the threat in order to prevent future incidences from occurring.

The difference here is between potential threats and known threats that are reported after the fact. It’s the difference between warnings and notifications — between preventative measures and efforts to mitigate damage already done. This difference is all the more crucial when thinking about matters of sexual harassment and assault. Will I hear about something that could be threatening to me or others on campus beforehand, or only after someone has been harassed? This difference matters.

Of course, it’s reasonable to admit that there are and always will be limitations to the kind of communication we receive from Duke services. There are privacy and confidentiality concerns that make the issue of widespread distributed information more complicated. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question the system as a whole. These DukeALERTs are “sent out as necessary” and currently, the occurrence of several incidences of harassment on this campus does not qualify as “necessary” for the Duke population to know.

Perhaps it’s time that changed.

Ultimately, defining “necessary” isn’t just the responsibility of Duke services, but also of the members of the Duke community to which this alert system serves. This is our campus, and our shared campus. With growing concerns over campus safety, even with security guards themselves and particularly on Central Campus, this discussion is relevant to all of us. Rather than focus efforts on things like banning hoverboards, perhaps we should assess whether or not we are satisfied with the current systems that have been put in place to keep us safe.

So, to the list of undisclosed-recipients for every DukeALERT, what do you think is “necessary” or threatening enough to alert the campus? How can we re-purpose the DukeALERT system from “the thing that tells us when class is canceled” to a system for safety and security that aims to prevent harmful incidences, not just report them?

Until that happens, please respond, not to me, not to the Vice President, but to each other. Hit reply all with your “necessary” and alert-worthy information.

– – –
We encourage you to visit for future updates.