Staff editorial: Student safety must stay a priority

Washington University, it’s been a busy week. Before Wednesday’s WILD announcement (Carly Rae, we love you!), student inboxes were hit with a jarring report regarding another carjacking near campus and the resulting announcement of changes to security practices from Washington University Police Chief Mark Glenn. To address student safety on campus, Austin Sandoval-Sweeney, assistant director of fraternity and sorority life, released updates to Greek Life social event management policies and hosted a town hall to incorporate student input.

As a preface: We appreciate the University’s willingness to—again—take steps to address pervasive issues on and off campus. Every day hundreds of students traverse across Forest Park Parkway to return home, attend off campus events or explore the Delmar Loop. Students and families that live near campus shouldn’t have to worry about the threat of an armed robbery or carjacking while doing as simple a task as walking home or to their car. As evidenced by the litany of op-eds published in Student Life last year and the recent investigation into Alpha Epsilon Pi for “alcohol-related violations,” the threats of relationship violence and alcohol-related illness at Greek life events on campus pose further dangers to student safety.

In his email, Glenn cites six Washington University Police Department officers that have volunteered to work on their days off to enhance patrol in the neighborhoods north and south of the Danforth Campus and the Skinker-DeBaliviere community. This change, he says, is “in order to maintain the current levels of staffing.” While commendable, the announcement opens the door to questions about the level of staffing: Is the “current level” an already-elevated amount of officers? Or were the number of officers on patrol decreased for some other reason and are now being returned to their original level?

While no one is expecting or demanding that WUPD or any police department find ways to eradicate all crime in any part of the country, we wish that WUPD had consulted with students or community members before deciding on the best way to increase safety measures around campus. Some of the things that we feel affect our safety the most—blue light alert systems and the security of routes near campus—seem to have gone unaddressed in the recent changes. Not coincidentally, the recent armed robbery and carjacking occurred in blue light dead zones located just off campus. For those of us living on the west side of Skinker Boulevard, our primary path home—the Centennial Greenway—is closed until October, leaving the poorly-lit, chain-link-lined sidewalk down Forest Park Parkway as our only option.

In an effort to address student safety at Greek life social events, the Campus Life Office released a series of updates to their event management policies for fraternities and sororities. The changes address everything from alcohol dispensation—beer and wine only; served by a licensed bartender; limited by the amount off “tabs” on attendee’s wristbands; and purchased by students—to event security—two guards at the entrance to events with alcohol; one guard at every “alcohol distribution point;” one guard for every 100 attendees; and one guard for each bus (if being used).

Sorority members seem to get the bad end of the deal here: The events to which these rules apply are located in fraternity houses, meaning fraternity members living there could easily consume their own personal alcohol (beer, wine or otherwise) without having to pay per drink and without a cap on their number of drinks. While sororities are allowed to reserve on-campus spaces (like the Gargoyle), they have no equivalent to a fraternity house to host events and, by extension, control the flow of alcohol.

The cost of purchasing individual drinks presents an additional financial barrier to compound the already-expensive Greek life membership fees. Of course, the argument exists that students could simply choose not to drink at events, but we believe the more likely reality is that students will instead choose to drink before events, known as pregaming, to avoid paying the added cost. Binge drinking can increase a person’s risk of alcohol poisoning regardless of location, but we believe this danger is elevated due to the higher likelihood that people will drink prior to arriving at registered events, making their alcohol consumption levels a mystery to those responding, like Emergency Support Team medics or security guards.

Addressing the risks posed by hard alcohol and enforcing the registration of social events are great things for Greek life at Washington University. It remains important, however, to continue to devote effort to the root of the problem, not just trim the top. Continuing to work with chapter members and consult with student groups to continually evaluate which changes are and aren’t working will lead to more refined policies that best serve all members of the University community. Additionally, working to incorporate information about the productive changes into Green Dot and It’s On Us trainings can help expand the new standards to other non-Greek affiliated groups on campus.

We understand that all of these policies, like most things, are works in progress. It is close to impossible to please everyone involved when the policies themselves have the potential to affect everyone on campus. So, with all of the changes announced by both WUPD and Campus Life, it is of the utmost importance that students continue to offer their input. As we’ve seen through the very recent, tangible changes to the Title IX process, the power of student voices can only lead to good things if cooperation between students and administrators can be achieved.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.