By ELIZABETH FINTO
This past Tuesday night around 10:45 PM, I was walking back to my dorm in Jefferson Hall from the Alvey and Arrington parking deck where I had to park my car. I walked on Campus Walk on the way back to my dorm, as it feels like the safest route to walk that late at night. I saw a blue emergency light at the Hurley Convergence Center and the next blue emergency light that I saw was outside of Trinkle Hall. I was shocked that I had only seen two blue lights along my path back to Jefferson Hall. I have never had to use one of these blue lights, however, it is a comfort to know they are there if I need them. But I felt as though there needed to be a blue emergency light every few yards.
After the different incidents that have occurred on UMW’s campus, I have felt anxious about my safety on campus at night. I know the UMW police are there if I need them, however the question arises: will I be able to contact them before something happens?
According to the 2017 Fredericksburg Campus Crime Statistics report from the UMW Police Department, there were twenty “sex offenses” which included “forcible rape” and “forcible fondling.” There were also five cases of stalking and five cases of dating violence, amongst an additional robbery and burglaries. After reading these statistics, my anxieties only increased.
Senior and communications and digital studies major, Hannah Duncan explained to me that she is not one who spends much time on campus at night, but when she does she feels safe. “I feel much safer on Campus Walk than I do on the sidewalks of College Avenue because I feel less exposed,” says Duncan.
However, she did comment on student concerns pertaining to safety. “I have started to notice students complain about the lack of blue lights on campus walk due to the increase of police reports UMW students have received lately.” Duncan continued,“I think it’s important that everyone feels safe, so if that means installing more blue lights, it should be done.”
Taylor Malone, a junior who is double-majoring in communications and digital studies and theatre, explained that she feels relatively safe on campus at night, but has since had concerns. “I had more and more people tell me horror stories about being approached at night.” Like Duncan, she feels especially unsafe on College Avenue. “I always wished there were more blue lights on College Avenue,” said Malone.“I have gone so far as to get a police escort from duPont Hall back to my dorm in the UMW Apartments because I didn’t want to walk alone.”
She explains that it is puzzling as to why there are four or more blue lights at the UMW Apartments, alone, but they are much more than the others spread out across the rest of campus. Malone commented, “I feel way safer walking from one apartment to the next than I do walking from the HCC back to the apartments. Why is there a need for so many [blue lights] in our little courtyard?”
Chief Hall explained that safety of the UMW community is of utmost importance. The UMW police, as well as many other members of UMW, are constantly figuring out ways to make campus as safe of a place as possible. Currently, there are over 130 blue lights across our campus, and each one costs about $10,000, according to Chief Hall. Some of them are now being equipped with cameras so that the police have a better chance of seeing what is going on.
Cameras are being installed all over campus. They are on the University Center, academic buildings, and are on the outside of some residence halls, such as Randolph and Mason. He emphasized that the cameras are not to invade people’s privacy, but are intended to ensure safety outside of residential and academic buildings.
Chief Hall shared that they are currently working on a project that will start in the upcoming spring semester. “The blue lights have been here forever, and what we want to do is to make sure that we have them placed adequately across campus for the community in which we serve,” said Hall. Chief Hall also stated that President Paino’s top priority is safety of our community. The evaluation is expected to answer some very important questions concerning the blue light system: are our current blue lights adequately placed, do we have too many blue lights, and do we need some additional blue lights?
There are a number of safety resources offered on campus aside from the blue lights, such as the Police Escort service, the Eagle Patrol golf cart rides, and also the Rave Guardian app that is free for students to use.
After speaking with fellow students and Chief Hall, I still believe that there should be an increased number of safety efforts in places such as College Avenue and the neighborhoods surrounding campus. Blue lights should be installed equally across campus. Although there are numerous blue lights on campus already, they should be installed in more external areas of campus where students are more likely to come in contact with potential outside threats. However, the blue lights can’t solve all of our safety concerns. People should walk with others, especially after dark. Walking in groups or pairs is always a safe plan. Students should also share their locations with their friends, their family members, or their roommates. We all have cell phones, and we always have them with us. Taking these precautions can help lead to a safer environment for students while they are on and off campus.