Parking for anyone is a daunting issue at UMW, but for commuter students, it’s frustrating and riddled with fear. It’s an act of providence to achieve a parking space and preposterous measures must be taken to obtain one that’s close to where you need to be.
I have been commuting for two years now. I’ve spent $400 in parking decals and gained a nice set of calves for my efforts. As an English major, all of my classes are in Combs Hall, on the south end of campus; the opposing end as the parking deck. There are two designated parking lots for commuter students; one at the north end on Thornton Street, the other at the south end on William Street.
The William Street lot is shared with residential students and about as far away from “campus activity” as you can get while still being within UMW’s perimeter. Parking is being addressed by adding more spaces, yet the distance from class settings is something that commuter students need to take into consideration.
Everyone is aware of the sexual assault that happened about a year ago in the parking garage. A sophomore was taken to the hospital after encountering a still unidentified man on the third floor of the garage. Earlier the same year, a runner was attacked on the UMW track on Hanover Street. This year there have been four alleged sexual misconduct acts on campus.
The disturbing connection between the lack of parking at UMW and the crime on campus is that commuter students are often walking long distances, many times alone, and this could be very dangerous. Personally, there are days that I don’t see a single other pedestrian while walking from campus to my car in the William Street parking lot. After attending class meetings, I’ve walked to my car in the dark, and let me tell you, that is one scary venture.
I used to think that my paranoia was unjust and that I was safe on campus, yet recently my nerves have kicked into high gear along with many other students. Campus safety has been a hot button issue recently and the overall opinion is that it could use some improvement. President Judy Hample’s test of the “blue light” phone system on campus found that it took police six minutes to respond to her distress call from one of the many emergency telephones placed on campus. The student escort service, in which personnel walk with or drive students who do not want to walk alone, can also take a significant length of time to respond to a student’s request for escort.
Though these security issues are campus-wide, commuters need to pay close attention to their own actions while the security issues on campus are being addressed. Here are some common sense suggestions for both commuter and residential students to avoid potentially dangerous situations on campus:
1.) Walk with a buddy. Assaults are more frequently directed towards those who are alone. Generally, commuter students arrive at campus a little before others in order to insure a parking space and to make time for the walk from parking to class. Students can confer with others in their first class and see who else is commuting at the same time of the day. Those students can walk to class together and alleviate the danger of being caught alone.
2.) Pay attention to your surroundings. MP3 players, cell phones, and other devices can be a good distraction from the walk, but they also avert your attention from what’s going on around you. Limit your distractions by holding off on calling Mom or listening to Britney Spears until you get to your car.
3.) Have your keys in hand. Not only can keys be used as a weapon if necessary, but having your keys out indicates that your close to your destination, even if you aren’t. The illusion makes an attacker question their time frame and could possibly mean the difference between whether they attempt the assault or not.
4.) Have your cell phone close. Though you shouldn’t be using the phone, have it close at hand. If there is a situation, you don’t need to be fishing in your bag in order to find your cell phone and call for help.
5.) Don’t always take the same route. Though routine is easy, it’s also predictable. Students who vary their walks across campus, such as sometimes parking on the north end and sometimes parking on the south end, are harder to watch and follow. If that’s not possible, change the side of the street you’re walking on occasionally. The less predictable you are, the less likely you’ll be followed.
6.) Know where the “blue light” phones are on campus. Emergency phones are going to be the quickest way to get a response if something happens. Know where to find them if there is a situation.
7.) Dress appropriately for the walk. I don’t mean that you have to cover yourself up from head to toe: Appropriate dress for pedestrians are clothes that can be easily seen and comfortable shoes. By being visible, students are more likely to attract attention if they are in distress and tennis shoes instead of heels or flip flops could mean the difference between escape and falling down.
8.) If you know you’re going to be alone at dark, bring along a flash light. It’s not only good for lighting, but it can also be used as a weapon.
9.) Most importantly, trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to contact campus security if you’re afraid you could be in a dangerous situation. It allows you to be in contact with someone in case a situation happens before they arrive.