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Student Senate’s Safety Walk shows a campus in need of light

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Court Street in Athens, Ohio at night. File photo by Connor Perrett.

A walk around campus Monday shed light on a potential problem… campus safety.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday night, the fourth floor of Baker University Center was filled with representatives from University Planning, Health and Safety, Housing and Residence Life, Facilities and Safety, the Dean of Students office, the President’s Office and Student Senate. They were getting ready to embark on The Safety Walk.

The Safety Walk is part of a continued effort to make the campus safer by paying attention to poorly lit areas on campus that could contribute to sexual assault.

Hannah Burke, the Student Senate Women’s Affairs Commissioner, and Alicia Lundy-Morse, the Student Senate Residence Life Commissioner, first noticed the need to address safety on campus based on their own personal experiences and from the concerns of their friends.

“We had both thought that lighting was an issue on campus, and we both saw on our social media pages that people we knew were saying this was scary to them, especially when there were two or three assaults within the span of seven days,” Burke said.

The Women’s Affair Commission has previously been involved in the Take Back the Night initiative, a yearly rally that takes place in the spring to bring more awareness to sexaul assault on campus. They have also been in contact with the Survivor’s Advocacy Program (SAP).

Burke has worked to make sure assaults are being properly reported around campus, and is trying to ensure that faculty, staff and RAs all have proper assault training.

While lighting issues have continuously been pushed by Student Senate, these proposals have received some hesitation from the administration. Student Senate is now trying to spread awareness of a need for lighting through social media campaigns by making new maps that highlight points of concern on campus, and by encouraging more student engagement.

“We have meetings in Baker until 8, 9 most nights, and then walk home in the dark, and most other students do that,” Burke said prior to the walk.

“Most administrators don’t have to do that because they leave at 5. So there’s a disconnect there and it’s a problem when they don’t realize. We want people to just look at the campus in a different light.”

The walk first started just outside the top of Baker, along the sidewalk of W Mulberry towards Richland Ave. When Student Senate President Landen Lama asked about the darkness of the street, the administration informed him it did not fall under Ohio University domain.

“It’s a city street and they (Athens City) are in charge of those,” University Planning representative Michael McAvoy said.

Student Senate has city representatives, but none were present on the walk.

Court Street remained well lit but became darker as the walk moved onto College Green. It didn’t start to get dark until the walk headed down the steps behind Bryan Hall. This particular stairway that has received several lighting-related complaints from students.

“I’ve definitely seen some improvement over the semester and summer,” Student Senate Treasurer Zachary Wood said as he walked through East Green. “I think it can just take greater strides. I think the administration is pushing for it, the speed is just a little slow.”

The walk paused in front of Gamertsfelder Hall. There was a pale blue light hanging next to the doorway of the dorm, one of the several blue light call boxes that can be found around campus. Several Student Senate representatives came forward, led by one in particular.

Jordyn Zimmerman, iPad in hand, went forward to push the blue light call box. Zimmerman, who is the minorities affairs commissioner and accessibility liaison for student senate, is not able to communicate vocally and communicates using a voice program on an iPad.

She pressed the call box and began to type her message. The caller on the other end was not able to understand her due to the low volume of the iPad and the time it took Zimmerman to type. As Zimmerman continued to type, the caller asked her for her location.

“They should be able to see where people are coming from,” Wood said. “We should also put an alarm on the box that goes off when you press it, and the door should also automatically unlock and alert the OUPD and also the nearby RAs.”

Lundy-Morse pointed out other issues with the light system.

“The blue lights are underused, so financially wise I couldn’t justify telling the university to buy more, and they’re also not very accessibility friendly,” she said.

“We’ve talked about other things we can do, like an app on your phone you could use to alert Athens PD or OUPD instead.”

As the walk went to South Green and up onto the catwalks that lead to many of the South Green dorms, it became clear that much of the lighting there was outdated. Most of the lights around the buildings, save for Nelson, glowed with dark yellow light, which offer less visibility than white lights. As soon as the group continued onto the catwalk, their surroundings became even darker.

Burke pointed out that the area underneath the catwalk is better lit, but said many people are nervous to go underneath because it is less visible and also less stable-feeling. Additionally, nearly all the lights under the catwalk are older yellow lights.

“In those instances where things are happening outside, better lighting makes it so you can see your assaulter,” Burke said.

“It happens a lot that a victim can’t properly describe their assaulter, they can only say they’re 6’3”. I think assaulters have a certain confidence in a dark place because no one can see anything.”

The most well-lit point on South Green is the Living Learning Center, which is illuminated from the inside and also features a prominent, bright blue light and call box. The Center is also open to all students until midnight on weeknights and until 1 or 2 a.m. on weekends.

As the walk entered into its final few stops, several student senators began to point out issues with lights that had recently gone out around campus, including recently replaced lights around Boyd Hall.

A few minutes later, the walk stopped under the bridge between Boyd and Treudley Hall, which currently has two lights that have gone out. But similar to the lack of lights on W Mulberry, these lights belong to the city, making the issue out of the university’s reach.

“We’re responsible for the university property, and most roads and crosswalks belong to the city,” Associate Director of Maintenance and Operations Jay North said.

“Currently, we have a few work orders about the lights being out that we’ll take care of, but as a whole, it hasn’t been too bad with things that have been out.”

Jeff Gamble, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, pointed out that Facilities Management and Safety will also receive project initiation forms, which cover problems that are  bigger than what the department handles on a day to day basis.

The walk stopped in front of Baker Center. The building was bright, as there are alway lights on inside of Baker. But Student Senate VP Nicole Schneider expressed concern about the darkness that surrounds the crosswalks around Baker.

“I know a lot of us are concerned by lighting, but we’re also looking at lighting of crosswalks,” Schneider said.

“That isn’t so much concerned with sexual assault as it is with personal safety.”

She also said that she talked to a few administrators on the walk about putting reflective lights on the ground, and that the administration would be looking into pricing to talk to either the university or the city about implementing it.

As the walk closed, many student senators seemed optimistic about the impact of the event.

Some student senators are already anticipating some pushback about the effectiveness of the proposed changes, and have offered some responses.

“If it makes you feel more safe, it’s worth it,” Burke said.

“I’ve heard a couple male students say that we shouldn’t put more lighting because it doesn’t actually decrease assaults. What I’d like to say to them is, talk to me after you’ve been on the phone with your mom as you walk home because you’re nervous someone will harass you or assault you.”

Above all else, the walk created a new perspective of campus, one that could only be achieved in the dark.

“I always say, if your walking tour of campus was at night, would your parents feel safe letting you go to school here?” Lundy-Morse said.

“No parent wants to spend the money at a school where they don’t know if their kid got home safely.”

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