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StudCo reviews past term

Council addresses safety in response to student concerns through site, panels

Student Council held its last meeting of the semester Tuesday night, following an eventful term in which committees struggled to fund sustainable programs while perceptions of safety on Grounds became more and more pessimistic.

With what seemed to be a dramatic increase in crime this semester, Council members have attempted to improve their response time to student concerns. The Off-Grounds Safety Forum was launched in early October after several reports of student muggings and assaults, beginning in late September.

The Safety and Wellness Committee also introduced a new page on Council's website for students to express their concerns about safety on and off Grounds. Students who posted on the site could list areas that needed improved lighting, as well as facilitate discussion on any additional topics brought up. Within days of its launch, the forum saw more than 100 postings from interested students and community members.

"Avenues like the online safety forum and police panel discussions give students outlets to productively express their concerns," Committee Co-Chair Nadia Khatouri said. "Violent crimes have actually gone down, contrary to what people believe."

Additionally, the Safety and Wellness Committee has sponsored events such as the November Police Panel Discussion with University police officers and the free self-defense class held Tuesday nights at the Aquatics & Fitness Center.

The committee is also exploring the new SafeWalk program, which will undergo a trial run next semester. Committee members created the initiative after seeing programs such as Free Ride and SafeRide become ineffective.

SafeWalk "complements the bus, the taxi and SafeRide programs without the potential for abuse," Khatouri said. "The people who are using it will have the same purpose" of getting home safely.\nSimilarly, ensuring that on- and off-Grounds areas are well-lit is another of the committee's concerns.

"What you need is a lighting evaluation from a lighting specialist," Co-Chair Peter Townsend said. "We have to work through the logistics now."

Council has not limited its attention to safety programs, though. Other prominent proposals introduced this semester included the Student Life Committee's umbrella sharing program, as well as the extension of Observatory Hill Dining Hall's hours from 8 to 9 p.m to address a perceived student need. Umbrella sharing was ultimately eliminated because of budget contraints, but Student Life has seen its UVAirBus program, launched last year, get off to a successful start.

"I'm hoping that they'll be able to come with some measures to make it a sustainable program," Director of University Relations Dan Morrison said. "The programs [like UVAirBus] that are used by students have the mechanisms in place for students to use year after year."

In addition to introducing new programs, Council passed a number of resolutions this semester. One of the most controversial came Nov. 16, when Council called on University President Teresa A. Sullivan to endorse Congress' DREAM Act, which proposes that illegal immigrants be allowed admission to colleges and universities nationwide, provided they meet certain requirements. Although it passed unanimously, the bill supporting the DREAM Act underwent almost 90 minutes of discussion and debate among the representative body about the bill's language and whether it was Council's place to endorse legislation that the student body had not given a clear consensus on.

"I think that we passed a lot of important legislation this semester," Council President Colin Hood said. "We have had a lot of great conversations, and I'm excited the representative body is engaged in what Student Council is doing."

Additional moves by Council this semester include support for bullying and harassment education in light of recent teenage suicides, the Legislative Affairs Committee's hosting of a debate between Congressional candidates Tom Perriello, D-Charlottesville, and independent candidate Jeffrey Clark, and Environmental Sustainability's program that encouraged students to carry trash bags for a week to raise awareness about personal trash production.

"I think that Student Council works best when it's able to respond to students' concerns, and that's exactly what [the committees] have taken to heart this semester," Morrison said.


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