Staying out late studying or spending time with friends is an inevitable way of life for many college students, but when the work is done and the party is over, sometimes the long walk home alone in the dark can seem eerie.
After the New Year’s murder of Esmeralda Barrera in North Campus, students have been more cautious when walking around at night, said Paul Cooksey, public relations senior and director of SURE Walk, a volunteer group of members who will walk students home between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. According to the Austin Police Department’s most recent crime search map, there were 30 assaults near UT in 2010, amounting to 1.5 percent of Austin’s total assaults.
“I have never had a bad experience but I have pepper spray, and I never walk alone,” said biochemistry senior Denise Gritzewsky. “Even if I have to be alone, I am always on the phone so I am never completely alone. And when my friends walk home they are welcome, and often do, call me and I stay with them on the line until I know they are safe.”
SURE Walk provides safety through volunteers who can be reached by phone or email to meet a student and walk them to their destination, Cooksey said. SURE Walk will escort students in the areas between MLK Boulevard, Lamar Boulevard, E. 29th Street and E. Inner Campus Drive, Cooksey said.
“As much as SURE Walk would like to provide walks to everyone, there are times when the desired destination request is a bit out of range,” Cooksey said. “When SURE Walk cannot be around, you must always stay aware of your surroundings.”
APD spokeswoman Veneza Aguinaga said walking in groups when possible and staying observant are the keys to safety.
“Do not have headphones on where you cannot hear what is going on around you,” Aguinaga said. “Be observant and have a phone available in case of emergency.”
UT Police Department Sgt. Laura Davis said UTPD is available on-campus at any time, but as soon as a student is off UT property, it is the jurisdiction of APD, meaning most of West Campus is not under UTPD’s jurisdiction.
“If we see or hear something happen or there is an emergency, UTPD will step in when it’s off-campus if APD can’t get there in time,” Davis said. “That rarely happens, though.”
Psychology senior Brandy Obennoskey said the strong presence of UTPD keeps her calm at night.
“I’m okay with staying on campus late if I have to,” Obennosky said. “I’ve never had to quicken my pace and I feel like UTPD is really on top of things.”
Printed on Friday, February 17, 2012 as: SURE Walk, UTPD offer nighttime safety options