Trial program addresses safety concerns on campus, but is it enough—or too much?
By Sharon Miki, Senior Columnist
As the days get shorter and enjoying daylight suddenly becomes a fond memory rather than a regular occurrence, more and more students find themselves stumbling to and from the college in the dark. While dark and chilly winter nights may seem romantic to some, they can also be dangerous when it comes to personal safety. In the wake of recent reports of sexual assaults occurring around the University of British Columbia, there is an atmosphere of amplified concern and attention to the safety of staff and students working and studying at post-secondary institutions like Douglas College. In response to these factors, the College has implemented a new trial safety program, the SkyTrain Safer Walk program, at the New Westminster campus.
The SkyTrain Safer Walk program is a pilot initiative running on weekdays from November 4 to December 16 at the New Westminster campus. As part of the SkyTrain Safer Walk program, students and employees can meet with a uniformed security officer in the concourse; every 30 minutes between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., the officer will escort people down Eighth Street to the New Westminster SkyTrain station.
With a similar safety program being discontinued in the past, why is the walk to the SkyTrain a concern warranting the Safer Walk service now?
“This program is not a response to any specific incident around Douglas College,” noted Nancy Constable, director of safety, security and risk management at Douglas College, when asked about safety at the college and the impetus behind the Safer Walk program. “However, we do recognize there is heightened awareness about safety in light of recent sexual assaults reported on another campus in the region. That situation, plus the earlier darkness due to the change from daylight saving time, caused us to believe that right now is the time to reintroduce and test such a program.”
Indeed, there does seem to be cause for people to be concerned about their safety when walking on and around campus. According to research compiled by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFSO), women between the ages of 18 and 24—a prime demographic for Douglas College students—encounter the highest rates of sexual violence in the country. While the CFSO acknowledges that the majority of sexual assaults related to Canadian post-secondary institutions—more than 80 per cent of rapes—are perpetrated by someone known to the victim, a recent string of six reported stranger assaults at UBC suggests that there is cause to be wary of strangers in the dark.
Tino Boyes, a second-year Sports Science student at Douglas College, tried out the program last week and agrees that the program is a good idea when it comes to proactive personal safety. “It’s good to be cautious. I haven’t had anything happen to me, but it doesn’t hurt to be proactive and reactive.”
But, if we are to be concerned with our safety when walking to and from campus, should that concern be localized to one relatively well-populated street at one campus?
Constable spoke to this, noting that the Safer Walk addresses one safety issue that has been conveyed to the College: “Walking to SkyTrain is the issue that has been communicated to us [due to] concern occasionally encountered by students and employees en route to the SkyTrain, as well as the nature of a major transportation hub and its surrounding areas being a draw for a variety of people to congregate, some of whom may engage in behaviour that is intimidating.”
Constable also noted that additional long-standing measures are available at both campuses to address other security concerns. “In addition to the safer walk to SkyTrain, at both the Coquitlam and New Westminster campus, employees and students may arrange for an on-campus security escort ([for example], to a vehicle in the parkade/surface lot/Town Centre overflow lot, within buildings or to perimeter of property) either by phoning Security or requesting in person at the Security Kiosk…
“Douglas College is a great place to learn and to work, and we take the safety and security of our students and employees very seriously and work hard to maintain safe campuses.”
In the first few weeks of the program, Constable has received feedback from those who have tried the Safer Walk out: “I’ve had many emails from students and employees as well so we’re getting a really good sense of how people feel about it… which is very positive.” However, while many who are using the service, like Boyes, appreciate the program as a positive and proactive way to “promote safety in the community,” awareness about the Safer Walk seems to be minimal with just over 30 participants utilizing the service in its first three weeks.
Anyone interested in trying out the SkyTrain Safer Walk program can meet at the marked Safer Walk table in the New West campus’ main concourse by the west entrance between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. The program’s trial period ends on December 16, though Constable notes that she has received positive feedback from students who have used the service, and that the college will review keeping the program going into the Winter 2014 semester.
Have a safe voyage to campus, too!
Tips for protecting your security in transit
No matter how safe you are on and around campus, transiting to and from school can still be an unnerving journey if you’re concerned about your personal security. Douglas College’s safety expert, Nancy Constable, director of safety, security and risk management, offers the following tips for students and staff to stay as safe as possible when in transit:
- Know before you go. Identify your transit route and schedule before you leave—and have a copy of it on hand just in case your timing gets changed.
- Minimize your alone time. Try to set up your travel so that you arrive at your stop or station only a few minutes before departure time.
- Be aware! Take note of who and what is around you when you’re walking to and from your bus or SkyTrain stop.
- Tune in to your safety. Being engrossed in your phone or listening to music can make it hard to hear and easy to be distracted—don’t limit your own ability to notice potential risks or signs of danger around you.
- Walk tall. When you’re walking to or from your destination, walk with purpose and confidence.
- Sit smart. On the bus, sit near the front; on the SkyTrain, avoid sitting in an empty car—and move to another car if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
- Travel in a pack. There’s often safety in numbers, so try to coordinate travel with people you know and trust whenever you can—and especially at night.
- Speak up. If someone bothers you while you’re riding the bus, don’t be shy—tell the driver immediately.
- Request A Stop. TransLink provides a Request A Stop service. If, in order to feel safe, you prefer to get off a bus at a point between two regular stops, you can “Request A Stop” from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. As long as you aren’t on an express or limited-stop portion of your bus’ route, the driver will let you off between stops (provided that the driver believes it’s safe to do so).