Campus called generally safe
A major safety audit of the University’s grounds and buildings this summer concludes that students generally feel safe on the U of S campus.
Janice Lavoie, the University’s Community Safety Manager, says she’s “pleased to see that result”, but she adds that a number of findings by the two students who conducted the audit this summer point out specific improvements that can make the campus even safer.
Sociology student Melissa Cotton and Regional & Urban Development student Nich Fraser were hired by the U of S Department of Health, Safety & Environment (DHSE) to spend May through August surveying students, asking questions of focus groups, and doing detailed inspections of all 31 “student access” buildings on campus as well as the grounds students must walk in the daytime and nighttime.
Cotton and Fraser say they “put a lot of miles on”, filled a number of binders with revealing information about safety issues both inside and outside on campus, and they identified a number of things that make people feel more safe and less safe at the University.
Lavoie says while safety audits have been done in the past at the U of S, the major safety and security review carried out by consultants two years ago made her think it was “time to take another snapshot” of the situation. “Our main goal was to capture how students are feeling about safety on campus.”
Cotton and Fraser first surveyed students and conducted focus group questionnaires with a sample of students that included not just undergraduate students but also graduate students, and representatives of the Women’s Centre and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender & Ally Centre. The surveys assessed students’ time spent on campus, where they go during the day and night, their awareness of safety-related programs, and their feelings of safety.
Lavoie says the students were asked to consider issues like lighting, landscaping, “wayfinding” (signage and ease of finding pathways), accessibility, access to emergency assistance, bicycle and pedestrian safety, building lock-up issues, and safety programs like Safewalk and Late Night Safe Study.
Throughout the summer, Cotton and Fraser carried out unscheduled spot-inspections of buildings and outside areas. They found that both male and female students feel generally safe on campus, although the women feel less secure when there are problems of lighting, wayfinding or areas where they could feel isolated or trapped.
Lavoie says a key finding, and one that she will take action to improve very soon, is the question of when buildings are locked at night, and how easily known those hours are. “Our system of buildings being open or locked is helter-skelter,” Lavoie says. “Students should know when academic buildings are open and when they’re locked up, and that’s something we’ve got to work on.”
She says it’s not always easy to find out when a building is going to be locked – it usually isn’t posted at the door and it’s not easily obtainable on the University website. There may be a need to standardize and publicize building closure times. “The door-locking issue is one I plan to undertake in the very near future,” Lavoie says.
She says the students discovered a couple of things that needed immediate attention and got it. The new tunnels connecting the College Building with the residences and the Physics Building needed emergency buttons and now have them. And a cul-de-sac between Thorvaldson and the new Spinks Addition is getting landscaping and an emergency phone.
Another issue the students identified as the need for safety around bike-racks – ensuring lighting, visibility from nearby paths or buildings, and possibly even the addition of secure, caged bike-rack areas.
Also, the University’s signage tends to be geared to motorists, and there may be a need for more signage aimed at helping pedestrians navigate around campus.
And, Cotton and Fraser found students are fairly well aware of safety programs, and there is a desire to have the Safe Study program expanded.
“We’ve created a lot of information” that will fuel decisions in the future, Fraser says. Cotton adds, “There was nothing that was ‘shock-and-awe’, but there were a lot of little specific things we identified that can be worked on.”