It has been a fall semester scarred with safety concerns outside Seton Hall’s gates: robberies, muggings and a fatal shooting.
These security issues have now reached the University’s property.
A female student was sexually assaulted around 11 p.m. on Tuesday night in the parking lot near the Rec Center, according to a broadcast e-mail sent to the Seton Hall community on Wednesday.
The suspect in the incident is at-large and sought after by the South Orange Police Department, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Seton Hall Public Safety personnel, according to a release from the South Orange Police Department.
Authorities say the suspect is a black male, about 20 or 21-years-old, 6-feet-1-inch tall with a muscular build. He is also described as clean-shaven with short hair, according to the broadcast e-mail.
At the time of the incident, the suspect wore a dark blue shirt, black pants and was driving a four-door black car, described as a Toyota or Chevrolet.
Dr. Laura Wankel, vice president for Student Affairs, spoke with a group of student leaders in a Wednesday afternoon meeting in the University Center Faculty Lounge.
She said the administration was “extremely concerned” about the sexual assault and would have an immediate “enhanced presence” of security personnel on-campus at night.
By Wednesday, 6 p.m., there were many Public Safety officers on bicycles circling the Green as well as fliers posted everywhere on campus reminding students that Public Safety escorts are available by request all night.
But some of those signs were covered by 11 p.m. – with fliers advertising a planned student walkout on Monday at 12:30 p.m.
The walkout to the Green, an event listed on Facebook, would be to show dissatisfaction with the University’s safety. It had 158 “attendees” as of press time.
Patrick Linfante, assistant vice president for Public Safety, spoke and answered questions at the student leaders’ meeting, attended by about 150 students and University faculty/staff.
“We don’t know if he’s a member of the community,” Linfante said after being asked about the suspect.
The meeting provided no further details, other than that the suspect drove in, of how he arrived on-campus or toward which direction he fled.
The incident, broadcast by Seton Hall in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Campus Security Act, was reported by the victim to Public Safety on Tuesday night. The victim reported she was sexually assaulted as she left Walsh Library around 11 p.m. en route to her residence hall.
Multiple media sources, including the local ABC and FOX news affiliates, described the victim as a freshman. The University has not provided any specific details about the victim.
According to the broadcast e-mail, the suspect approached the student and asked her to walk with him toward Ivy Hill Park. When the student resisted, the suspect forced her to follow him and committed the assault in the F-lot (parking lot) next to a parked vehicle before driving away.
At the student leaders’ meeting, Linfante said the incident was “nothing that would draw suspicion” and it didn’t lead to “current danger” for the campus, which would have warranted use of the PirateAlert e-mail and text message alert system.
Still, several students were vocal to Linfante in expressing their safety concerns. Some offered ideas that included checking vehicles more thoroughly when entering campus.
Linfante said changes such as that could change Seton Hall “from an open environment to a prison camp,” explaining that students would miss the ability to freely enter or exit the campus.
Both Wankel and Linfante said this sexual assault incident was an isolated event and that it was, according to Wankel, “close to a decade” since something similar has happened.
However, according to the 2010 Campus Security and Fire Safety report, a section for “reported security statistics” lists “forcible sex offenses” on campus as happening once last year, six times in 2008 and twice in 2007.
The report, posted online at the University’s Web site, explains forcible sex offenses as forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object or forcible fondling.
A member of the South Orange Police Department staff said no further information about the incident could be released because the investigation is pending.
Additionally, messages were left with Seton Hall Media Relations seeking comment from other administrators. However they were not immediately returned.
News Editor Jessica Sutcliffe contributed to this report.
Brian Wisowaty can be reached at email@example.com.