As an elected representative for the Comm School, a member of the Safety and Wellness Committee, and a UVa student, I want to use this post to voice recent concerns in the area of student safety and call for increased student involvement in a discussion that involves each and every member of the community.
Coming to UVa in 2007, I believed I was entering into the perfect world of work hard/play hard, a cute college campus in a quaint Virginia town. However, after a couple months I realized that Charlottesville was not quite as close to nirvana as I had pictured it. Yes, there are many students out and about every night of the week, some walking to the library while others are headed in quite the opposite direction towards Elliewood and the Corner. But Charlottesville was not as ideal as I had thought. I began hearing of sexual assaults, muggings, robberies and attacks happening to both men and women in off-grounds housing areas in broad daylight. How could this happen? I could not comprehend how all of these incidents could have happened in such a small area, so close to grounds. I knew there was both a UVa Police Force and a separate Charlottesville Police Force, and I didn’t know how they could permit these incidents to occur to innocent students right under their own eyes.
I realize now that I was a bit irrational in thinking about safety issues my first year–the UVa and Charlottesville Police Forces are made up of talented men and women dedicated to bettering the community and keeping peace in their jurisdictions, but they cannot be everywhere. In addition, students sometimes make themselves more vulnerable by either walking alone or by partaking in late night activities that cause them to be less aware of their surroundings. Nevertheless, I firmly believe there is no excuse for UVa to feel as unsafe as it currently does. I felt safer studying abroad in Paris than I do walking to the library here in Charlottesville. I agree with the police that students are partially at fault, and there are a number of things we can do to make ourselves less vulnerable to assault. On the other hand, I also agree with the students who believe there is something more that needs to be done. If there is no way for the police to patrol more because of budget concerns or a focus on other job duties, there should at least be a way for students to get from point A and point B safely and efficiently. Safe Ride, as many students know, is a great service offered by UVa and the police department, but it is often late to pick students up or full by the time it arrives. There is no GPS system in the van, so drivers drop students off in the order they deem best, usually done more by time of entry rather than the most efficient route. The police department has added more staff to man the phones at busy times, but one van is ultimately insufficient, especially in light of the expanding student population. The police have also ordered a second van, but because of government regulations and bureaucracy, the van is unfortunately not expected to be in use until the end of the year.
I talk about Safe Ride to give an example of one way in which the police and the UVa administration have collaborated in an attempt to improve student safety and also as an example of a program that needs some help. Students have suggested improving Safe Ride by allowing student volunteers to act as additional drivers or the addition of a GPS call-system that would order pick-ups and drop-offs more efficiently and effectively. The police have mentioned it’s possible neither is feasible, but these suggestions are a step in the right direction. There is a panel discussion this Wednesday night, hosted by Student Council’s Safety and Wellness Committee in an effort to encourage communication between police and students. A number of police officers from both the UVa and Charlottesville Police Departments will be in attendance, and the police panelists will be open to discussion about what they have been doing to improve student safety, especially in light of the recent attacks, and what we, as students, can do to ensure we are creating the safest situations possible.
The police, UVa administration, community, and students can all work together to create a safer and more pleasant Charlottesville. The actions of each one of us can make a difference, and it is my hope that in fostering continued discussion and brainstorming between police and students, the upcoming police panel can lead us to the discovery of better solutions that improve safety and wellness for all.
If any of you have any comments, questions, or a desire to discuss this further, my office hours are Wednesday mornings at 10 am in the Student Council office.