Inter-Sorority Council releases letter, report recommending increased security off Grounds

73 percent of respondents to ISC survey believe current safety systems are inadequate, report shows

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An on-duty Ambassador writes a report describing the evening's activities. Jake Gold | Cavalier Daily

The Inter-Sorority Council recently released the results of an October survey that asked ISC sorority members to describe their sense of safety off-Grounds and ultimately bring safety-related recommendations to the Office of the Dean of Students.

In a letter released alongside the report, the ISC implored University Police to install better lighting and increase the Ambassadors presence in off-Grounds student housing areas near the Corner and along Jefferson Park Avenue and West Main Street.

Both the letter and the report were sent to University officials Jan. 1.

The survey, conducted between Oct. 14-21, included 12 safety-related questions and received 665 responses — 24.6 percent of the ISC’s 2700 members, according to their website.

39.1 percent of respondents reported feeling either “unsafe” or “very unsafe” in off-Grounds areas at night on weekends, with the percentage increasing to 43 percent on weekdays.

73 percent of respondents, when asked if the University provided adequate resources to ensure student safety in off-Grounds housing areas, answered no. 

A majority of respondents reported that University-provided resources — including the blue-light system, the Ambassadors program and Safe Ride — either had a neutral or ineffective impact on making them feel safe in off-Grounds areas.

90.8 percent of respondents stated that they would like to see increased lighting in off-Grounds student housing areas, and 66.2 percent of respondents said they would like to see more stationary Ambassadors in off-Grounds housing areas.

According to the letter, in 2016, the City of Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services released a Pedestrian Lighting Study in which two pedestrian areas were studied, the Corner and the Downtown Mall. Of the 10 streets that the City’s survey identified for lighting improvements, nine were in the Corner area. 

The ISC recommended that the City of Charlottesville Department of Neighborhood Development Services work with the University and University Police to reevaluate lighting. Areas that the ISC recommended for evaluation included Wertland Street, Rugby Road, other areas around the Corner and Jefferson Park Avenue.

The ISC also recommended that UPD increase Ambassador patrols in off-Grounds housing areas — including Jefferson Park Avenue, West Main Street and areas near the Corner — and publish more information on the selection, training and vetting process of Ambassadors on the Ambassadors website

Dean of Students Allen Groves, and Gloria Graham, associate vice president for Safety and Security, responded to the ISC’s letter Jan. 4. Their letter — addressed to Zoe Denenberg, outgoing ISC president and fourth-year College student — thanked the ISC for their research and recommendations.

Denenberg did not respond to a request for comment about Groves and Graham’s response to the letter.

“We appreciate the thoughtful approach of the Inter-Sorority Council in conducting this survey, and are also grateful to Student Council and other members of the University community for their feedback,” Groves and Graham wrote. “Such input resembles the partnership and collaboration our offices wish to continue with the community as safety is a shared responsibility for all of us.”

“With regard to lighting, the University’s Safety Committee partners with various stakeholders and conducts a bi-annual Lighting and Safety Walk around Grounds to assess lighting conditions and identify areas where lighting can be enhanced,” Groves and Graham stated in their letter. 

Furthermore, Groves and Graham said the University does not have control over lighting improvements to property it does not own, but does work with the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to address safety and security concerns off-Grounds.

Groves and Graham also noted that University community members can submit concerns about lighting to the Office of Safety and Security.

“We will treat your safety letter as just such a community request and will work with our colleagues in the City to see what may be possible,” Groves and Graham wrote.

In an email statement sent to The Cavalier Daily, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney stated that the police’s goal is to provide for the safety of everyone in the Charlottesville community, including University students.

“Based on the recommendations published by the Inter-Sorority Council, we look forward to partnering with UVA, the University Police Department, our Neighborhood Development Services Department, and the ISC to address their concerns and to identify other off-grounds safety measures,” Brackney stated.

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Tony Edwards, the Development Services Manager at the City of Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services, stated that “materials used in developing future projects” will take into considerations the letter’s contents.

“We continue to work with the University on multiple projects that will include new pedestrian lighting facilities and safety improvements,” Edwards wrote.

Some improvements have been made as recently as last year. According to Groves and Graham, in fall 2018, five different Ambassador patrols were added — including areas on Chancellor Street near the railroad fence-line, 14th Street, Wertland Street and Virginia Avenue. Additionally, Ambassador coverage of Jefferson Park Avenue between Emmet Street the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Building was pushed up to start at 7 p.m. instead of 11 p.m.

“Future adjustments to the coverage areas will be made consistent with our routine review of activity data and as necessary in our continuous efforts to enhance safety,” Groves and Graham wrote.

The Office of Safety and Security, Groves and Graham noted, regularly reviews Ambassador coverage locations and makes changes as needed.

“Decisions regarding where to place ambassadors is made by analyzing activity data, which is gathered routinely, and reviewing it in consultation with University Police,” Groves and Graham wrote. “Safety and Security staff also review activity data from areas adjacent to Grounds, provided by the Charlottesville Police Department.”

Groves and Graham also shared data about the Ambassadors’ work around Grounds. In 2017, they made 1,108 calls for police assistance, filed 827 requests for medical assistance and conducted over 1,579 escorts.

“We are currently compiling summary data for 2018 and will share that information once it becomes available,” Groves and Graham wrote.

In its conclusion, the ISC’s letter noted that they were excited by recent progress, including the release of an updated Ambassadors Zone Map which features key information about Ambassador Patrols and Blue Light Phones.

However, the ISC wrote, there is more progress to be made. 

“The Inter-Sorority Council hopes that the Off-Grounds Student Safety Climate Survey and Report demonstrates need for additional action and provides helpful and feasible recommendations to prioritize in the coming year,” the letter concluded.

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