By Elizabeth Foy Larsen
It was the last Tuesday in March, but judging from the number of down parkas spotted shuffling across the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge, it might as well have been the middle of December. Thankfully, the morning wind’s bite was softened by the hot coffee and fresh donuts from Grandma’s Bakery, which were being offered by the University of Minnesota Police Department and the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education.
Students snapped up donuts of all varieties on their way to class, from tables also displaying flyers on sexual assault and buttons bearing messages like, “Don’t Be a Stranger to Consent.” A half dozen police officer stood nearby, looking friendly and ready to chat.
Welcome to Cops N’ Coffee, a semiannual three-day event sponsored by the UMPD and its partners. Held on the U’s East and West Banks, as well as the St. Paul campus, the gatherings are informal opportunities to remind the greater U community of the resources available to help should the need arise. While the fall 2017 events focused on transportation issues—including bike and skateboard safety—the spring gathering was devoted to combatting sexual misconduct.
“It’s about making sure students, faculty, and staff know that the UMPD is part of a bigger group supporting them,” says Police Chief Matt Clark, who struck the right balance of warm and approachable while also being respectful of the reason for the event. “With 80,000 people and two hospitals, the U is a city in itself. We are better as a campus when we can respond to these needs.”
The U has just launched an initiative to address sexual misconduct on all of its campuses. Through training and an extensive public health awareness campaign, the President’s Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct aims to change campus culture for the better. A 2016 study commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that an average of 10 percent of women were assaulted during a single academic year across the nine campuses examined by researchers.
Cops N’ Coffee is a soft sell. In the event’s first 45 minutes, not a single person initiated a conversation with the police officers on hand. Several filled their cups and rushed off, citing appointments or the need to get to class. And Clark admitted goodnaturedly that the donuts—not the advocacy—were the reason students were streaming out of Blegen Hall and toward the bridge and tables. (When the UMPD once offered healthy snacks, they had almost no takers; plus, donuts show a cheeky sense of humor.)
The Aurora Center’s Legal Advocacy Coordinator Bronte Stewart-New, who was on-site to answer questions, says the events are important awareness-raisers for the entire U community. “It’s important to show we aren’t scary people,” she says. “Someone may be more likely to seek help if they know we aren’t faceless employees.”
Photo by Jayme Halbritter
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