U of C addresses campus safety concerns

By Rachel Cromidas

[img id=”80467″ align=”alignleft”] Campus safety and transportation officials discussed University efforts to increase security in Hyde Park at a Student Government–hosted forum Wednesday in Reynolds Club, citing an expanded late-night bus service and newly created police sub-station south of the Midway.

“Beginning with Columbine, and then with [Northern Illinois University]… we want more security but are not sure how far to go,” said Belinda Vasquez, interim associate dean of student affairs. “There’s a tug and pull between too much security and a lot of security.”

According to Vasquez, students who feel unsafe at the University can contact a dean-on-call in order to report a crime or discuss sexual harassment concerns.

“Going to the police is scary for some students who don’t understand the process. So you can have a dean-on-call present to explain that process to you. We’ve dealt with domestic abuse, we’ve dealt with what feels like harassment, e-mails, and we will visit the hospital if for whatever reason the student needs to go to the E.R.,” Vasquez said.

Another recent addition to campus safety includes several new vans in the SafeRide bus service to transport students between 39th and 63rd streets, and from Cottage Grove to Lake Shore Drive.

SafeRide shuttles will pick up anyone affiliated with the University between 5 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekdays and until 6 a.m. on weekends if a pick-up is requested in advance, said Brian Shaw, director of campus transportation. Students may also flag down buses, but Shaw warned that despite the program’s expansion, students might still encounter filled buses that don’t have room for them if they do not call ahead.

Third-year Matt Kennedy, student government vice president for student affairs and organizer of the forum, cited student complaints that the buses lack signs that clearly distinguish them as SafeRide vehicles.

Shaw responded that the University has arranged to put magnetic signs on the vans in use. He added that the vans will be phased out of the program in the next month when new buses arrive.

“We got the vans because they wanted to expand the program quickly,” Shaw said. “We’d much rather use buses. They hold more people, and they’re more recognizable.”

In response to a question about whether the services would be available to community members, Shaw said that the University does not allow vans to pick up non-affiliated community residents for liability reasons.

“Unless we as a University are willing to take that [liability] on, we cannot expand the scope of our services beyond there…. it’s an issue we have yet to solve,” he said.

Sergeant JoCathy Roberts, a University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) crime prevention officer, discussed the role that officers play in campus safety at the forum. According to Roberts, on any given day the UCPD will have 15 to 18 squad cars on the streets of Hyde Park. Students can reach officers by dialing 123 or 28181 from any University phone, she said, or by using one of the white emergency phones marked by blue strobe lights that sit on many streets well-trafficked by University students.

Roberts suggested that students interested in their own safety should read the “Common Sense” brochure distributed by the University, and consider carrying a whistle.

“Whistle-Stop is a program everyone knows [in Hyde Park.] When a whistle is blown, there’s a problem,” Roberts said. “Don’t ever feel like you can’t move around this area—the area we cover—and not feel safe.”