Austin Energy has updated 27% of West Campus lighting fixtures in need of improvement, UT community wants faster progress


Hannah Clark

Junior D’Andra Luster walks through West Campus back to her apartment on Feb. 8. Local safety organizations and UT students are frustrated by the city’s lack of communication about when West Campus lighting improvements will occur to increase safety amid rising crime rates.

Tori Duff, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the September 24 flipbook. 

As of Thursday, over 1,800 concerned UT parents and community members signed a petition for the city to expedite lighting and other safety improvements in West Campus.

The petition, started by public safety advocacy group SafeHorns, asks the city of Austin to follow through on plans from 2019 to upgrade 1,125 lighting fixtures in the 78705 area and install 229 new fixtures to improve visibility. Austin Energy said it switched out 300 outdated fixtures as of Aug. 2021 and aims to complete all upgrades by the end of September 2022.

However, some safety advocates say the city has not provided many updates on these improvements over the past two years.

SafeHorns president Joell McNew said the city needs to communicate the timeline of improvements better to the public. 

Carla George, parent of a UT student and SafeHorns vice president, said these safety efforts matter to her because her son and his friends were assaulted in West Campus while leaving the food trucks at 26th Street and Rio Grande. 

“That sparked me saying, ‘What are we gonna do about it?’” George said. “We’ve been fighting for these lights and call boxes and HALO cameras, … and we need to raise awareness that these things are happening, and you need to be on your guard.”

UT parent Beverly Johnson said she signed the petition because as an out-of-state parent, she wants to do as much as she can to protect her son and the student body from where she is.

“After reading about Haruka Weiser and Harrison Brown, I realized it really could be anyone,” Johnson said. “What happened to Haruka is tragic, and if we could just add lighting or more resources, we can help protect students.”

Dance freshman Haruka Weiser was killed on campus while walking home in 2016. Undeclared freshman Harrison Brown was killed in an on-campus stabbing in 2017.

University representative Jeremiah Baldwin said he sometimes feels uncomfortable walking home at night but knows his experience is not the same as other students’.

“For me, personally, I find West Campus to be fairly safe,” said Baldwin, a government, rhetoric and writing, and African and African diaspora studies junior. “But I know that my experience is not the same for every other student. I know there are students who identify as women who might not feel safe walking home and alone. … I understand that’s a privilege that I have as someone who identifies as a man.”

SafeHorns hopes to gain more signatures on its lighting petition at the beginning of October from “National Night Out,” a safety educational event with the UT Police Department. After that, they plan to present the petition to city officials.

McNew said the amount of crime in West Campus has desensitized many students, and they do not always report incidents. In March through August 2020, auto thefts nearly tripled while burglary rates also rose from 2019, according to previous reporting by The Daily Texan.

“The reason we keep having to talk about this is because it’s just still so ongoing, and not that issues of safety will never not be ongoing, but this thing is something that was promised — improved lighting, improved public safety resources — and it hasn’t happened,” McNew said.