Confront recent safety concerns as a campus community

Kevin Helgren

I’d be lying if I were to tell you that what happened last week was what I anticipated my first week in office looking like.

We took office at noon on Tuesday, and I received a message around 1 p.m. informing me of the tragedy that had happened on the 40 Acres. Between responding to media requests and attending last-minute meetings in preparation for the community gathering, the next few days were difficult to navigate.

As things begin to settle down around campus, the question that has consumed our thoughts since news of the tragedy first broke travels closer and closer to the forefronts of our minds: “What are we going to do about campus safety?”

Last week, Student Government committed a great deal of time and energy to expanding safety measures on campus. We trained over 100 students from various organizations to prepare them for service as SURE Walk volunteers, and we expanded locations to cover the FAC and the Winship building. We also expanded SURE Walk’s hours of operation immediately following the incident.

This morning, Taral Patel, outgoing Student Government Chief of Staff, and Krishan Sachdev, director of SURE Walk, met with UTPD to discuss a potential collaboration between Student Government and the campus police department. Their discussion included revamping SURE Walk practices and protocols, offering SURE Walk services on weekends, and supplementing SURE Walk services with an application for smart phones. Lastly, leaders from both the Senate of College Councils and Student Government have continued conversations with administrations regarding lighting on campus, especially along the length of Waller Creek and behind the Alumni Center.

In researching safety measures at other institutions across the country, I’ve stumbled upon a good number of campuses that have partnered with ride-hailing companies to ensure safe travels home during late evenings and early mornings. For example, the University of Southern California has partnered with Uber to make it such that all USC students and staff members are granted free rides between the hours of 7 p.m. and 2 a.m.

As is the case with all partnerships between corporations and universities, there are quite a few details that must be ironed out before moving forward. That being said, the prospect of establishing working relationships with ride-hailing companies is still uncertain; however, we are committed to exploring all possible options.

Beyond the creation of new resources, Student Government plans to commit tremendous amounts of time and energy to raising awareness. As soon as our executive board is finalized — which will happen next Tuesday, April 19 — the first order of business for the communications director and his or her staff will be a wide-scale social media campaign to encourage the utilization of resources such as SURE Walk, police help boxes and counseling services in the CMHC.

We want your feedback — honestly. The Senate of College Councils, Graduate Student Assembly and Student Government are teaming up to hold a Campus Conversation on campus safety next Wednesday, April 20, at 6 p.m. in FAC 21. This is your opportunity to express concerns, throw out ideas and participate in what I hope will be a productive dialogue about how to enhance safety measures across the 40 Acres. Students deserve to be safe, and we are wholeheartedly committed to ensuring that this is the case.

I find an immense amount of comfort in knowing that we, as a student body, in light of last week’s tragedy, were able to come together to take care of ourselves and to take care of each other. Please remember to keep doing that. Our community will continue to stand together.

Helgren is a neuroscience, psychology and Liberal Arts Honors senior from Austin. He is the student body president.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated since its initial publication to reflect the Graduate Students Assembly's role in hosting the upcoming April 20 Campus Conversation on safety.

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