Director of Campus Safety Holly Nieto announced earlier this month that she will be retiring at the end of the semester. A presence on campus for the past 36 years, Nieto became known this year for her “Oxy has a plan for that…” emails about emergency preparedness. She also received and compiled data for Clery Act reporting. An April 1 email from Dean of Students Barbara Avery informed the campus about her retirement.
Nieto did not specify her reasons for leaving.
“I’m not comfortable talking about some of it, but I will simply tell you that it’s time,” Nieto said.
Nieto has worked in many positions at Occidental and within Campus Safety. As the Director of Campus Safety, she was the head of operations alongside former Campus Safety Lt. Joseph Cunje and oversaw Clery Act compliance and emergency preparedness. According to Nieto, when Cunje went on medical leave in January 2013, the workload became more than she alone could manage. Chief of Campus Safety Sean Kennedy took over the operations side when he joined Occidental in August 2013, and Nieto dedicated her time to the Clery Act and emergency preparedness system. The Clery Act mandates that the college disclose certain types of crimes in an Annual Security Report, among other requirements. This report includes crime statistics from the previous three calendar years and is due to the federal government on Oct. 1.
“I will have [the report] done before I leave, come the proverbial hell or high water, it will be done, because after 36 years, I don’t want to leave the college with unfinished business,” Nieto said.
Allegations that the school was underreporting sexual assaults led to the current investigation by the Department of Education for violations of the Clery Act. Nieto expressed annoyance with the way in which reports of sexual assaults were handled and communicated to her office.
“It’s incredibly frustrating for someone sitting in my chair or wearing the sparkly shoes that I’m wearing to have to deal with people who say, ‘I know something, but I’m not going to tell you what it is, but I’m going to hold you accountable for making sure it’s reported correctly,'” Nieto said. “We make every attempt possible to categorize [sexual assault reports] correctly.”
According to Associate Dean of Students Tim Chang, who oversees Campus Safety, the college has begun searching for a Clery Act Coordinator to take over when Nieto leaves at the end of June. The new position will only deal with Clery Act compliance, and Kennedy and Environmental Health and Safety Manager Bruce Steele will take over maintaining the college’s emergency preparedness systems.
“When we find a replacement, we’ll find someone with good knowledge of the Clery Act, but what we can’t replace is someone who knows the intersection of the Clery and Oxy,” Chang said. “There will be a steep learning curve for anyone coming in.”
Nieto came to Occidental in 1978 from California Institute of Technology after seeing a job posting in the L.A. Times. She joined the department now known as Facilities and ascended to supervisor roles. During this time, she developed the work order system that allows the college to track how much it spends on maintenance of buildings. When Campus Safety merged with Facilities in 1991, Nieto volunteered to fill the role of manager of Campus Safety.
“[Campus Safety was] primarily looking for somebody who was a good administrator and also had a good appreciation for law enforcement, and I said, ‘I can do that!’ They said, ‘Well what makes you think you can do that?,’ which was a fair question to them because I had pulled that one on them so often,” Nieto said.
Upon revealing her past as a corrections officer at the Federal Department of Justice, Nieto got the job as manager and has remained in the Campus Safety department ever since.
“She’s worn a lot of hats, a lot, and some of it’s because other people didn’t want to wear that hat, so she said, ‘Ok, let’s do it,'” Campus Safety Sgt. Claudia Conde said.
Nieto’s last day is June 30, but she will remain in campus housing until the end of January. According to Human Resources Office Manager Nicole Plascensia, employees are generally required to leave campus housing within 30 days of retiring, but Nieto explained that the extra months will allow her to find alternate living accommodations. In her absence, she believes that the college can grow from the contentious sexual assault debate.
“My biggest hope is that we learn to trust each other again and engage in those robust conversations civilly,” Nieto said. “Occidental has been a constant piece of fabric through my life, so I would want it to do nothing but get stronger and nicer and keep doing the amazing things we do.”