Op-ed: We need you, Wash. U.

Kaitlyn Herndon | Class of 2020

I called the Office Residential Life three days ago to ask them about their safety improvements. They asked me who my daughter was. I had to explain that, “No, it’s me. I’m the student. And I’m scared.”

I didn’t want to start the fall semester writing an op-ed addressing student safety, but I also didn’t expect to hear about two armed robberies and a shooting in my neighborhood within the first three weeks of school.

When it comes to off-campus safety, Washington University is not doing enough to protect its students. Less on-campus housing is available, and many students were forced into expensive options up to 20 minutes away from the edge of Danforth Campus. Residential Life knows that 520 of Wash. U.’s students live in the school’s off-campus housing options, and this is in addition to all the students living throughout the surrounding residential areas in privately-owned buildings.

If being unwillingly far from campus is not enough of a stressor, Wash. U. has decreased parking with its construction on the East End, entirely incapacitated the Overpass and has shockingly few resources available to students to get them home at night. The Metro Green Line quickly fills up; and if you miss the shuttle, you’re stranded for another 20 to 30 minutes. The “Campus2Home” service does not stop unless you call ahead, or lean into the road trying to get its attention. Wash. U.’s “Guaranteed Ride Home Policy” applies to four rides by a ride service that will be funded up to 80 percent in case of a proven emergency. But tell me where I can get a receipt for feeling unsafe four blocks over from my off-campus University-owned apartment?

Not providing students with a reliable means of transportation to and from campus increases the amount of time students are in transit, possibly alone.

In my call with Residential Life, they said that they are working on checking up on the lighting and the blue lights in the area, but the blue light system won’t help students when they are accosted at gunpoint in dark areas.

It also hurts even more that students living on and off-campus rarely hear anything about actual incidents when they first occur. Instead, up to 16 hours may pass before the school notifies students that they “should be cautious”. I am referring to the first incident this semester, in which the notice came at 11:00 a.m. the next morning regarding an 8:40 p.m. assault and robbery the night before. In regard to the carjacking incident on Pershing Avenue last Sunday, no one in the Washington Avenue and Kingsbury neighborhoods ever heard about it.

One of Wash. U.’s few safety tip posters says, “Safety: You make it happen.” I disagree. Students can make smart choices, but only Wash. U. can make the off-campus community safer.

Wash. U. needs to employ a ride service like those at the University of Southern California or Assumption College that subsidize nighttime Uber rides for students. It needs to fix the Overpass as quickly as possible, vastly increase the lighting on streets like Washington Avenue, Kingsbury Boulevard, Waterman Boulevard and Pershing Avenue (to name just a few) and actually employ more Washington University Police Department officers to patrol the surrounding neighborhoods.

In the email that was most recently sent to students, WUPD said that it has six more officers patrolling three off-campus neighborhoods on their off-days. A temporary emergency response is not what is necessary here. Wash. U.’s Police Department needs to employ more officers to cover even more ground. First, it was Washington Avenue. Now, it is Pershing Avenue. These are both streets highly-populated by Wash. U. students. Relying on a couple of off-duty officers per neighborhood to volunteer their time is simply not enough and disrespects the work that these individuals are doing.

Just because something happens outside the Danforth Campus does not mean it should not be a priority. As students, and as adults, we recognize our need to make good choices about getting home safely and the importance of looking out for one another. However, no one wants to constantly worry about danger in their own backyard.

Wash. U., your students are afraid to walk home at night. Please help us.

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