How Widener University Infuses Community Connections with Campus Safety

Widener's safety officers are the school's most visible ambassadors, showing up for students in uncommon and meaningful ways.
Published: May 27, 2024

CHESTER, Pa. — News coverage related to crime on and around college campuses has made clear that many institutions are grappling with safety issues. At Widener University, we have developed a holistic understanding of safety that has helped to decrease incidents of crime and build a stronger culture of care among our entire community. This approach involved a reevaluation of our understanding of “safety” to include not just physical but also personal well-being. Widener’s safety officers are now leading the charge to infuse “belonging” across the institution.

Widener is a private university with three campuses, two law schools, and about 5,500 students. The undergraduate campus is located in Chester, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles west of Philadelphia. Like most other urban campuses, ensuring a safe environment for our entire community is very important to us.

When Anthony Pluretti accepted the position of executive director of Campus Safety in early 2020, the unit was in desperate need of change. Morale was low and innovations were rare. Anthony, who has a solid background in campus safety from his years at Wells College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, immediately brought a collaborative, creative, and inclusive approach to leadership that invited officers to see themselves as important contributors to a positive campus culture. He and his team began to re-envision their purpose: putting student success at the center of their work. They embraced creativity and fun. They sought to know our students – by asking questions and listening to answers – and they began to love their work.

See interactions between Widener safety officers and students

Through conversations with students and families, Anthony’s team also began to understand the importance of addressing widespread perceptions about safety on campus as much as the reality of it. They increased communication with parents, staff, alumni, and community members. They replaced officers’ formal police-like uniforms with a business casual approach using university colors and branding. These friendlier uniforms made the officers more approachable and, pragmatically, more visible while on patrol.

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Perhaps most effective, Anthony changed the shift schedule to increase overlapping coverage, allowing more staff to be on patrol during peak crime and service call hours so that students received faster and more customer-centric services, while also reducing crime in and around campus.

When Stacey Robertson arrived as university president in 2022, she brought with her a passion for infusing belonging across Widener’s entire community. Anthony and the safety department immediately embraced this call to action.

Instead of acting as strict rule enforcers with a limited focus on crime prevention, the safety department leads with kindness and compassion. If a student is found studying in a classroom after hours, the officer brings them water and a snack and patrols the building more often. If a student needs a ride to a local grocery store or the airport, the safety department’s Pride Ride is at their service. Students trust safety officers and feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.

The safety office’s commitment to belonging is not limited to students. They now surprise other units on campus with mini-celebrations and unexpected expressions of gratitude. They sponsor “water ice” afternoons and hand out candy on Valentine’s Day. In other words, they are now our university’s most visible belonging ambassadors.

It’s not merely our Widener community that has noticed these advancements. Anthony was nationally recognized for his innate ability to connect with our students and his team, as well as his determination to improve morale among campus officers, by being named Campus Safety Magazine’s Higher Education Director of the Year winner in 2022.

The Office of Campus Safety’s new culture of care has led to innovative thinking about physical safety across the university. As Widener implements ongoing enhancements to security – including lighting, landscaping, and building design – we prioritize those ideas that also enrich our natural environment, build community, and enhance belonging. The result is a well-lit, beautiful, sustainable, and safe campus that draws our community together for constant connection opportunities and increased well-being.

Stacey Robertson, Ph.D., is president and Anthony Pluretti is executive director of Campus Safety at Widener University.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

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