Over the past few weeks, University students have become grimly familiar with the multitude of community alert emails indicating a crime or potential crime on or around Grounds has occurred. We’ve been alerted of three incidents in the past week alone and six since the start of the semester. Less than two weeks ago, a University student was shot at Boylan Heights — one of the many incidents of shots fired around Grounds this year alone. While this incident was unintentional, the fact remains that this individual was able to bring a gun into a bar filled with students and community members. It is clear that safety protocols in place are entirely inadequate.
The University in particular must take more effective action on a holistic approach to student safety. Now that many classes are back in person, students have expressed their concerns with the University’s current transportation system. Buses do not come frequently enough — on weekends, only the Gold Line runs on the typical 20 minute service, while the Orange and Green lines are cut down to 40 minute services. Further, the buses stop running too early — the last bus runs at midnight on the weekends, leaving students out past this time without reliable transportation. The University Transit Service recently removed the Monroe and Garrett Hall Bus stops on McCormick — further cutting transportation already in low supply. In addition, the Safe Ride system the University uses — through which students can request a free ride through the University’s transit app, largely on weekends at later hours — is inadequate and often does not have reliable estimates on expected arrival times. These transit issues, in turn, lead to an increase in the number of students walking at night who simply have no other option. While many may suggest turning to Ubers, they come with safety concerns, a hefty price tag and are not always available either.
Improving the bus system by offering later hours into the night and providing more buses — thus decreasing service times — will allow students to have reliable and safe transportation. The University needs to invest in its transportation system in order to better incentivize new drivers — this can then allow for an increase in the frequency of bus time arrival. Further, investing more in the University’s Safe Ride program — offering more options to reduce wait times and improve the overall efficiency — will help decrease the number of students walking around late at night.
In addition, the current range of ambassadors offers insufficient protection to students throughout the night. The University defines ambassadors’ unarmed surveillance service as an effort “to enhance safety … through high visibility and engagement between the Ambassadors and the public.” Currently, the cutoff point for where ambassadors are stationed ends at Grady Avenue, despite multiple popular off-Grounds housing areas lying past this zone. As a result, many students walking to these areas through the oftentimes poorly-lit city streets are left with none of the safety protocols the University claims to have in place. Despite at least two attacks already occurring in this area without ambassadors, the University still has not expanded the program. The geographic expansion of ambassador coverage can help alleviate some concerns regarding late-night walking in areas currently not patrolled. The University must also consider diversifiying its ambassador pool — students would likely feel more comfortable approaching ambassadors with a variety of identities. Following the shooting at Boylan, the University Police Department increased their presence on and around the Corner, and more ambassadors were placed as well. While increased policing and surveillance is concerning, the ambassador system — offering unarmed preventative surveillance — is a more ideal safety option.
Students are concerned for our safety. Many have taken it upon themselves to seek self-defense courses in order to better prepare themselves for a potential attack. However, these classes are difficult to come by — especially for students looking for affordable classes outside of a police environment. Thus, the University should foot this bill, offering students the opportunity to enroll in free self-defense workshops taught by non-police instructors. While the focus should, of course, be on crime prevention, not on teaching individuals how to fend off an attack, the fact remains that students are scared. They have seen how the mechanisms put in place to protect them have failed time and time again. As such, the University should at least ensure that students who do want this resource are able to access it.
The University does offer some safety resources that could alleviate some of these issues. The existence of the emergency phones — the “blue lights” that we see near first year dorms — offers quick access to emergency services, particularly late at night. However, these phones are not always operable, and they rely on the assumption that students will feel safe calling the police. Further, the Rave Guardian app offers a variety of safety resources — contact information for emergency and non-emergency services, the ability to assign someone to check on you and access to alerts based on your location, among countless offerings. This app is good — however, its benefits are not helping if students do not know it.
This is, of course, not an issue that can be entirely solved by the University. Charlottesville’s City Council needs to address the safety concerns the City is facing. This is a complex issue that needs to be addressed, at least in part, by addressing poverty rates in the city and redirecting resources to historically under-resourced communities. However, the University holds an obligation to both its students and the surrounding community to ensure their safety. Inaction by local officials does not mean the University is off the hook — especially when students’ lived experiences with their current safety measures demonstrate a variety of issues, from lack of adequate transportation to a narrow range of ambassador protection.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.