Op-Ed: Dear Chancellor Martin: A call to action

Garrett Cohen | Class of 2020

Dear Chancellor Martin,

On the night of September 7, I arrived home to my apartment on Pershing Avenue, checked my phone, and saw a text from my best friend that someone had been robbed at gunpoint down the road. He alerted me to not go outside because the suspects were still on the loose. Confused but drawn by curiosity, I walked onto my porch and saw the flashing blue lights not far from where I had been standing a few minutes prior. My heart sank and my roommate and I descended into a panic. That could have been me if I had arrived home a minute later.

I write to you not only on behalf of myself but also on behalf of my fellow students who share the same concerns. On that night of September 7, there were three armed robberies in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood. A day earlier, on September 6, a similar robbery took place. As both a senior at Wash. U. and a resident of Pershing Avenue, these events are troubling and frustrating.

After these recent events, I do not feel safe in my home. Every time I park my car, I have to be on guard checking if anyone is around. When I park, I sprint to my apartment and lock the door. I cannot help but ask myself: Should a student who already deals with the pressure of a rigorous academic schedule have to fear for his life on a short 5-minute walk from campus? I am disheartened that these events have occurred every semester that I have been at Wash. U.

What is more aggravating is the lack of tangible change in my three-plus years at Wash. U. There are few if any blue lights in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood. There are only two university security cameras that I could find. Yes, there are periodic security patrols, but the infrastructure to keep students safe does not exist. While Pershing Avenue and University Drive are not perfect comparisons, there are numerous blue lights, camera deployments complemented with frequent security patrols – all lacking in the Pershing area.

Washington University Police Department Chief of Police Mark Glenn’s emails show that the university is aware of the problem, but he places the responsibility of safety on the students by suggesting we “Do not sit in our cars to text,” or download a safety app. There is no mention of actionable steps taken, besides increased patrols, to prevent crime going forward. Rather than leaving it to the students to protect themselves, the responsibility should be placed on the university who has adequate resources to do so. Furthermore, Wash. U. owns 28 properties in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood; it is in their best interest and is their responsibility to keep the neighborhood safe.

The University’s recent decision to ban electric scooters on the Danforth Campus has only added insult to injury. Many students who live off-campus do not have cars and walk or bike to campus. While not perfect, the scooters shorten many students’ commutes to and from campus. I understand that electric scooters and skateboards were banned on campus to prevent accidents, but the designers of this policy failed to consider the repercussions.

I write this letter because I believe that this conversation should be a two-way street. The following things are notable on other parts of campus. I believe we need to extend the coverage of these existing safeguards. I would like to see:
1. More blue-lights extending farther off campus
2. Security cameras on off-campus Wash. U. owned buildings
3. Increased security patrols throughout the year
4. Re-initiate the Uber partnership until the necessary safety features are installed

As I write this letter, I see the WUPD bike patrols outside my living room window, but they are not long-term solutions to the issues we face. Residents of this area do not feel any more secure walking home because of this measure; these robberies can still happen with such a large area to cover. I call on the university to invest in the necessary safety infrastructure. I reiterate, WUPD has a tough job of protecting a vast area, but the university should provide them with the necessary tools to do so.

As a member of the Washington University Emergency Support Team (EST), I have devoted a large portion of my college career to helping people. I realize that preventing crime is not something that can be solved by an individual, rather it requires a collective of people and resources. We, as a university and a community, have to come together to make the place we call home a safe place to work and play.

I am happy to sit down and have a conversation about the next steps going forward.

I look forward to your response.

Update: Chancellor Martin responded to the author via email promptly after sending on September 10th.

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