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Campus safe, but security issues remain

Megan Doyle and Caitlin Housley | Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In the shadow of the Saint Mary’s Bell Tower and Notre Dame’s Golden Dome, students feel at home. Safe.

Outside these familiar spots, fear of the unknown puts students on their guard.

Saint Mary’s junior Sarah McCroy said she frequently walks from the Grotto to her dorm room in LeMans Hall at Saint Mary’s. She said as one of many students who walk late hours between the two campuses, there is a distinct area where she feels less secure — the same area where a sexual battery was reported April 27 by a Saint Mary’s student.

“It’s not an issue of feeling safe on campus,” McCroy said. “I feel very safe when I am walking on both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses. It’s just that limbo part, right after the lakes and before the Avenue.”

Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) Director Phil Johnson said safety at Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame is built on a sense of familiarity.

“One of the distinctions of Notre Dame is that we look out for each other, and we have that strong sense of Catholic campus,” Johnson said. “The fabric of our community is woven very close together with our residence program, and we need to leverage that as part of our safety program.”

Statistically, Johnson said while crime may occur anywhere, campuses report lower crime levels than surrounding cities.

“The incidents may be low in number, but there is a possibility of crime occurring here as there is anywhere,” he said. “But with a fully-engaged community, it is generally a safer community than one where we are entrenched in distrust and don’t interact with each other.”

However, this sense of familiarity may dull students to potential crimes.

“The threats to safety for women are presented, statistically, by people who are known to them,” Johnson said. “Most sexual assaults are committed by people known to the survivor, even if they have recently become acquainted.”

Saint Mary’s Director of Security David Gariepy said Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame do everything possible to protect students traveling between campuses. Blue Light services and Blinkey, a safe transport vehicle, provide security services to students, he said.

Gariepy said the peak popularity hours for Blinkey are 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. The service runs between all parking lots, dorms and the Grotto.

“Safety in numbers is critical,” he said. “It’s always good if you’re with friends and are standing together, you are less likely to have problems if you are with a group of your friends.”

Gariepy said 26 riders traveled on the shuttle Sunday. He said more women tend to use the service when they are reminded of potential danger.

“When we sent out the safety alert [in response to the alleged sexual battery] that night, ridership doubled for us,” Gariepy said.

Gariepy said he encourages women to avoid walking alone despite the feeling of security oncampus.

“We don’t want you walking alone,” Gariepy said. “If you’re alone and you feel fearful for any reason, I absolutely want you to call, because there is a reason normally that you’re feeling some sort of apprehension, and you’re instincts are far better in tune to what’s going on around you than your rational thought.”

Ann Firth, associate vice president of student affairs at Notre Dame, said Notre Dame works constantly to create a secure environment.

“I think we are a very safe community, but I don’t think any community can rest on that notion,” Firth said. “In fact, all of us have an obligation to promote safety, to be attentive to safety and to be alert to potential threats and dangers around us.”

Everyone does need to keep personal security in mind despite the atmosphere of safety on campus, Firth said.

“Sometimes we talk about the ‘Notre Dame bubble,’ and we think that nothing bad could happen here, no one could ever have anything less than good intentions,” Firth said. “The reality is that we always need to be attentive to our own safety, to be aware of the actions of others around us. We feel so at home here we presume that we are completely safe and that we don’t have to be attentive in that way, and the reality is that we do.”

Connie Adams, assistant director of the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO), said women need to be more attentive to personal safety.

“If there is some sort of instinct to a reaction, some feeling of discomfort, there is a reason for that, and [don’t] hesitate if there’s not substantial evidence as to why you feel that way or feel as though you shouldn’t feel that way,” she said. “Never hesitate to recognize that and to let that be a factor in keeping yourself safe in the action you take to do so.”

As senior Mariah McGrogan prepares for graduation, she said the feeling of the “Notre Dame bubble” can mislead students’ perception of potential danger.

“I think a lot of people feel that Notre Dame is the kind of place where violence doesn’t happen,” McGrogan said. “They feel immune to violence on our campus because of the family aspect, because everyone knows everyone.”

McGrogan served as a member and a chair for the Gender Relations committee in Student Senate, a student assistant at the Gender Relations Center and a member of the Center for Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP). McGrogan said her experience changed the way she viewed campus.

“I still get a little eerie walking around campus because I have had a lot of survivors of sexual assault come forward to me and tell me about their experiences,” she said. “It changes your understanding of this place. It changes how you view darker corners of this campus.”

McGrogan said she saw enormous progress in discussions about sexual assault and women’s safety on campus during her time at Notre Dame.

“We look so telescoped in on how we focus on things but now that I am graduating I am looking back,” she said. “I think there is a lot more conversation about sexual assault. … There has been more research into what sexual assault is and how it happens. There has just been a change in the kind of conversations we are having about it and more of an awareness of what the policies are surrounding sexual assault.”