The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Safety concerns spark fear from students

5 min read

The Heslep Amphitheater and Morris Stage where students were approached by a half-naked man. | umw.edu

By TABITHA ROBINSON

Staff Writer

In addition to the two campus safety alerts emailed to students in the past week, other students have spoken out about similar safety threats. Anna Billingsley, associate vice president of University Relations, emailed the campus safety alerts to students on Friday, April 9. The first was sent around 4 p.m. and explained that a middle-aged white male called a student a racial slur. The second was sent later that evening and explained that a half-naked man approached two students near the amphitheater. 

“The two Friday alerts were unrelated as far as we know,” said Billingsley. The first, sent at 4:18 p.m., said, “Last night, April 8, at approximately 6:50 p.m., an older (described as 50-ish years old) white male driving a gray pick-up truck verbally harassed, with a racial slur, a UMW student in the parking lot of the UMW Apartments.” The email closed with safety tips for students such as “If you see something, say something” and encouraged students to download the RAVE Guardian app.

“No one should go through what that student went through,” said UMW Chief of Police Michael Hall. “The student was taken aback by what the driver said for no apparent reason. It’s troubling to me why people do what they do—it’s just ignorant. When one of our community members is hurt through ignorance, we all stand with them.” He said the UMW police are applying for additional funding for more cameras and lighting on the east end of campus.

“All students should be outraged by this, not just students of color,” said Jalen White, a sophomore psychology major. “All people of color are used to being targets of racism and discrimination, and it is unacceptable to come into contact with it on this campus—a campus that we all chose because we believed we would be safe.”

The second email from Billingsley came at 10:11 p.m. It said that members of campus “reported two separate (but related) indecent exposure incidents. It was reported that the incidents occurred in the same location on March 31 and April 6, in the vicinity of the wooded area near the amphitheater. The report stated that two students were on the brick sidewalk during both occasions shortly before midnight when a white male appeared from the woods.” The man was described as about 5’6”, 150 lbs, early 20s, with brown hair. According to the email, “The subject was wearing only a white T-shirt, and he spoke with the students before departing toward the street.”

This email also gave safety tips and urged students to notify campus police immediately if they saw the individual, concluding with, “DO NOT APPROACH THE PERSON.”

“We’re monitoring this and will have a conversation with the individual, should we catch them,” said Hall.

These two incidents are a part of a pattern of students feeling uncomfortable or unsafe in recent weeks. Around 5:50 p.m. on April 11, freshman Reese Kubricki was sitting in front of Westmoreland Hall when she and her friend Taylor Meyers were approached by a stranger. 

“He wasn’t wearing a mask and he smelled strongly of weed,” said Kubricki. “He kept asking if we knew any parties or if we smoked or did anything and we said no because that’s breaking school rules. He kept saying things about parties and drugs and was offering them to us and we politely declined. He was also offering to drive us places and begging for Taylor’s number and social medias… I was texting our friends to come save us. After texting friends, I started recording for our safety. Taylor was quick to end the conversation… we quickly called campus police and they were super quick to be on it.”

Kubricki said that, with this being the third such recent instance, she and others are feeling unsafe on campus. 

“It makes us feel unsafe honestly,” she said. “I know it’s a public campus but three men have harassed many students. It is not okay, it ruins our safety and affects going to enjoy campus life.” 

While aware of the safety concerns, Hall prefers to look on the bright side.

“When something like this happens, it elevates the wrong we need to correct,” said Hall. “But we can’t become embedded in the bad—we have to look for positives. UMW rallies together as a community. Our students do a phenomenal job of that while still being respectful of others.”

Freshman Sierra DeVault, an English major in the secondary education program, had an experience with a trespasser back on Feb. 25. 

“I heard rumors about a man wearing a black and red plaid jacket with a white shirt and blue jeans,” said DeVault “I didn’t think much about it and went on with my day… It was February 25 and around 8 p.m., my friends and I were approached by the man I heard about earlier. He approached us and asked us, ‘Is there a party here?’ I stared at him and told him that there were no parties because of COVID. He continued asking us questions and finally, we walked away from him. We called the police afterward and they told him to put on a mask. Then it happened again, and they told him to stay off-campus.”

DeVault said these events have caused anxiety for students on campus. 

“Everyone that I knew was really freaked out and scared to go outside,” she said. “My dorm decided to have a fire drill that night, which caused me horrible anxiety. Everyone is still scared. Everyone now has self-defense weapons because they feel that the police department will not do anything for students’ safety… UMW just sends out a warning in an email but it doesn’t seem like they’re taking steps to get this away from our campus.” 

Hall believes that the university provides adequate support to students after these safety incidents.

“Support for victims is readily given,” said Hall. “We notify the Talley Center, the dean and vice president, and have a threat assessment meeting.”

Some students disagree.

“I personally think this needs to be handled better,” Kubricki said. “This is something not to mess around about…trust your gut feeling. If you feel like someone is following or harassing you, try to leave and protect yourself.” 

White is also concerned about her safety on campus.

“This affects me because it makes me feel like I am not safe at a campus that I call home,” said White. “It makes me feel like I can’t even walk on campus, day or night, without constantly checking my surroundings to the point I am not comfortable.”

Hall encourages students to come to the UMW police with concerns.

“Do we always get it right? No,” said Hall. “But do we acknowledge it and keep trying? Yes. I’d rather have a conversation with students than have a problem fester. And I’d rather be called for something that’s nothing than not called at all for something.”

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