By Hanna Merzbach
Donna Henderson had her first day as Lewis & Clark’s first female Director of Campus Safety on Nov. 13. She is taking the place of Tim O’Dwyer, who retired in early September; her appointment marks the end of the search process that followed his retirement. A committee of faculty members, led by Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez, conducted open sessions with potential candidates.
Of the five finalists, Henderson’s ample experience and community-building focus made her stand out: she was with the Portland Police Bureau for 20 years, retiring as the assistant chief of investigations and later working for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement.
“I had retired from the Police Bureau about a year and a half ago and was still working for the city and some of my friends were saying ‘Hey, did you hear Tim is leaving up at Lewis & Clark?’” Henderson said. “It just fit where I want to be in my life.”
Henderson’s police experience proved to be a large selling point with the search committee. Choosing a director who could deal with emergency situations, whether it be an earthquake or school shooting, was one of its top priorities. Vice President and Provost Jane Atkinson agreed.
“As Director of Campus Safety, Donna will play an important role in our emergency management work,” Atkinson said. “From her years of work with the Portland Police Bureau, she has contacts across the region and is familiar with the processes and possibilities for interagency cooperation in times of crisis.”
In 2009, Henderson received a masters of arts in psychology from the LC Graduate School.
“She already knows and appreciates the campus culture,” Atkinson said. “I am confident that she is going to establish and maintain productive relationships with all sectors of the Lewis & Clark community.”
Although Henderson was a student at LC, she admits that she still has a lot to learn about the campus. She looks forward to the intimate connections a small campus allows.
“I want to really get to know the campus and the community,” Henderson said. “Working for somewhere like Portland Police Bureau where there are 600,000 people (in the city), it’s tough to get to know everybody. But, here, it is intimate enough for me to introduce myself to just about everybody on campus.”
Henderson has no intentions to make immediate changes; much like new President Wim Wiewel, Henderson plans to gauge what the campus wants during her first few months here. She plans to do this by connecting with the community and attending campus events.
“When I saw her interact with the staff and students in the sessions, she actually cared about their engagement with the college,” Dean Gonzalez said. “She was very enthusiastic about going to different activities, going to the (residence) halls and not just working during the day but also switching out her schedule so she could be here at night.”
While Henderson does not know any specific changes that will be made to Campus Safety, she highlighted her concern with drug use on campus.
“How we treat drug offenses here is something I am really interested in because I am just not sure where the school’s going with that,” Henderson said. “Basically, marijuana is legal here in Oregon. I can understand why it is illegal on campus because the school receives funding from federal dollars and the feds have not made it legal.”
Henderson aims to understand how the school deals with different levels of drug offenses.
“If we find that somebody has cocaine, do we look at somebody who is just using cocaine differently than somebody who is selling cocaine?” Henderson said.
Henderson understands very well that students may be apprehensive about hiring somebody with so much police experience. She wants to ensure students that she has no intention of arming Campus Safety or bringing the Portland Police to LC.
In light of Wiewel’s appointment, students have expressed concern about his arming of safety officers at his previous institution, Portland State University. Henderson agrees with this decision; however, she does not believe it will be necessary at LC.
“I think it was the right decision for Portland State,” Henderson said. “That is a whole different environment. I think he was looking at that environment and weighing out what you need in an urban society, in an open campus in downtown Portland. It is not the same here.”
Henderson hopes to transition smoothly to LC over the course of the next few months.
“I am the first female director of security that they have had here,” Henderson said. “So, I just want to be able to look at everything and not just assume that we have to go down a certain path. I really want to keep an open mind and find out what the community really wants from us and where they want to go.”