How can WC improve safety measures for students on campus?

By Kaitlin Dunn

Elm Staff Writer

In March, Washington College began maintenance on the blue lights on campus. Blue lights are emergency call boxes stationed at various points around campus that connect the user to WC Public Safety. 

The intent of the blue light system is for students to be able to use them if they are in a potentially unsafe situation, such as walking home from class or another friend’s dorm in the dark.

Prior to their removal, students had reported that the blue lights did not consistently work, or that they had trouble connecting to Public Safety, hence their need for maintenance. 

In an Elm article from September 2020, it was reported that junior “Maddie Jones asked about the blue light boxes, which she said produce a busy tone whenever she tries to call Public Safety with them, despite the blue lights on top working.”

The maintenance work is expected to take approximately three weeks, with no replacement for them planned during their absence. This decision was announced in a campus-wide email sent from Public Safety on March 18, 2021.

Former Director of Public Safety Brandon MacFayden, Associate Director of Public Safety Susan Golinski, and Patrol Supervisor Burton Brown were contacted to comment on student safety on Tuesday, April 20. As of Monday, April 26, none of them have responded.

The lack of blue lights leaves many students concerned for their own personal safety on campus during this three-week period. In the absence of the blue lights, the question of what WC students should do to feel safe while traversing campus in the dark arises.

Currently, the WC website has a list of ways students can maintain their safety on and off campus. These tips include “walk[ing] with others after dark,” “call[ing] Public Safety for an escort if you know you will be walking alone at night,” and learning the locations of the blue light phones, which are currently missing.

Many WC students feel that there is more that administration could be doing to better advocate for student safety on campus. 

“I think the biggest thing that WC can do right now is to help increase the relationship between public safety and the student body. Right now, there is an apparent lack of trust between the two. To create any meaningful change, that relationship needs to be formed,” freshman Senator of Student Life Kamden Richardson said.  “There is a great opportunity to start this process with whoever the school chooses as the new Head of Public Safety. If students and Public Safety can build that relationship, I think it can help students be overall safer on campus.”

Most of the tips on the “Developing Safe Habits” page are things that students are well aware of — such as encouragements not to walk in dark or hidden areas, to tell their friends where they are, and to pay attention to footsteps and voices. 

In order to maintain student safety in the absence of the blue lights, students should take extra precautions when walking through campus — including, but not limited to, the tips mentioned on the “Developing Safe Habits” page.

Another way that WC could better maintain and enhance student safety would be to expand the placement of blue lights on campus. Installing blue lights in more secluded areas, especially those in which students have reported feeling unsafe, could improve on-campus safety precautions.

Junior and SGA President Katherine DeSantis told WC senators on Monday, April 26, 2021 that the blue emergency lights would be re-installed by Saturday, May 1, 2021.

While the blue lights are gone, it is important for WC students to remain vigilant and mindful of their own safety while on campus. Even so, there is more that WC administration could be doing to better enhance student safety here within the campus community. 

Featured Photo caption: Blue lights stationed around campus are meant to allow students to call for help in unsafe situations with the press of a button. Photo by Mark Cooley.

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