Presidential forum focuses on personal safety
November 16, 2012Tweet
An awareness of personal safety was very much on the minds of those who attended the third Presidential Forum of the semester Monday night, though it may not be on the minds of many students.
The stage for dialog was set by President Harvey Stenger, as well as several others: Chief of Police Timothy Faughnan, Vice Provost for Strategic and Fiscal Planning Michael McGoff, Vice President for Administration James Van Voorst, Personal Safety Advisory Committee Chair William Ziegler and three student representatives of the PSAC. Each spoke briefly before those in attendance got to work.
Following the same format as prior forums, participants at the personal safety-focused session split into small groups to address one of three questions before rotating to another group and question.
The three questions:
1. How do you define personal safety? What makes you feel safe or unsafe?
2. What specific areas, activities or behaviors on campus or off-campus make you feel safe or unsafe?
3. What can be done to improve safety on and off campus?
With resident directors reporting for each group, as they have for previous forums, some common themes were apparent:
• Safety, or the perception of it, is personal to each individual.
• People tend to feel less safe in new environments that are less familiar.
• Campus is generally perceived to be a safe, comfortable environment; off campus is generally perceived to be less safe.
• The visibility of resources such as the blue lights creates the feeling of a safe environment.
• Knowledge of where to go for help and what places to avoid is key to feeling and being safe.
• More and earlier education of students about personal safety issues is necessary.
When addressing what makes someone feel safe or unsafe, some felt that closing the gates to campus at night made them feel safe, while others thought it provides a false sense of security. Several comments were made about people “tailgating” into residence halls when someone keys in with an ID. “How do you encourage residents to have tough conversations with their peers about it, and do we that perceive safety messages are getting out more than they really are?” they asked.
In general, there is an attitude of “this couldn’t happen to me” said participants, who added that students are not likely to take safety seriously until something bad happens.
To improve safety both on and off campus, participants suggested creating a culture where students understand there are consequences for unsafe behaviors like consuming too much alcohol, having a check-in desk in residence halls to stop tailgating, ensuring that all doors are locked – even room doors.
Ideas for better managing the campus environment included establishing a bar or pub on campus with more controls and enforcement of the drinking age, educating students about what might be in alcoholic drinks, creating a visible intervention threat assessment team, educating people on how to report issues of concern, expanding chemical-free housing on campus, expanding of Late Nite programs and offering more activities on a consistent basis.
Traffic and pedestrian safety were also hot topics. Suggestions to make walking on campus and across roadways more safe included making the “brain” one-way or closing it off entirely in some sections, widening the road so two buses can pass, reevaluating how sidewalks and crosswalks are used, and possibly using crossing guards at peak times.
Education was a primary goal for participants: start educating students about safety issues at orientation, and use peer educators to get the message across about what happens downtown.
McGoff, who co-chairs the Road Map Infrastructure Team charged with assessing the University’s physical and operational infrastructure needs and making recommendations of where strategic investments should be made, and Van Voorst, the team’s sponsor, will bring the ideas from the forum back to the team.