Student government looks to improve campus safety at Notre Dame
Thomas Murphy | Thursday, December 6, 2018
Campus safety and the well-being of students are always a major concern for a university and its governing bodies. Now with new developments in federally suggested sexual assault procedures, considerations regarding the efficacy of the blue light emergency system and greater GreeNDot awareness, student government has worked with the Notre Dame administration Security Police to increase student safety.
Student body vice president and senior Corey Gayheart said student government was concerned about the Department of Education’s push to change Title IX procedures regarding sexual assault. He said student government hopes Notre Dame makes the right policy decision regarding student safety.
“We’re planning on obviously meeting with administrators if Notre Dame will be changing any of its policies based on the changes,” Gayheart said. “I think our biggest issue is we want to make sure that Notre Dame holds itself to the highest standard possible and make sure that we are very in-tune with what is the best practice for dealing with a situation.”
Student body president and senior Gates McGavick said while student government may not be able to make any final decisions regarding Notre Dame’s policy, it will do all it can to advocate for the student body.
“Whatever Notre Dame ends up doing, of course, is one of those places where student government can’t really just stop the course of what [University President] Fr. [John] Jenkins decides,” McGavick said. “But any decision he makes that we don’t think matches the standard that Notre Dame needs to have towards its students, we will loudly and aggressively advocate for the student body’s feelings on it.”
McGavick and Gayheart campaigned last spring with the goal of reviewing, improving and possibly adding to Notre Dame’s blue lights, a system of emergency call boxes placed around the perimeter of campus and in other strategic locations. However, McGavick said their aspirations have been curbed since learning about the cost and effectiveness of the system.
“[The administration] indicated to us that the approach of other institutions and the blue light in general as a system is being scaled back,” McGavick said. “ … We were under the impression that blue lights were, in the view of campus safety departments, the most effective way to fight issues like sexual assault … but the way we have them right now, [blue lights] aren’t being used.”
Notre Dame Security Police chief Keri Kei Shibata said the common use of cell phones has led to a significant decline in the use of the blue light system.
“[Blue lights] started long ago, before people had cell phones, and now that almost everyone has a cell phone it’s not seen as being as important of a safety feature,” Shibata said. “We may get one call a semester that’s an actual call of someone needing something, at the most.”
McGavick said while a large expansion of blue lights does not seem possible right now, student government is still hoping to add a call box near the recently completed Walsh Family Hall.
Aside from this strategic addition, other options are also being looked at, McGavick said.
“For [the administration], it’s trying to justify the logistical and financial cost for what they see as not a big return because they’re not used that much,” McGavick said. “We’re interested in going in the direction of more creative solutions like a campus safety app.”
Shibata also said Notre Dame Security Police will continue adding blue lights to the campus perimeter and in isolated areas as the campus expands.
Having inherited a GreeNDot system that seemed to reach a “critical point of name recognition” during the 2017-18 academic year, McGavick said student government is looking for more ways to get students GreeNDot trained. These new initiatives will possibly include GreeNDot training sessions taking place directly in dorms and encouraging students who live in “party rooms” to receive training.
McGavick and Gayheart also said they have received interest from local bars and restaurants about the possibility of creating a program similar to GreeNDot for their employees, but financial obstacles regarding the payment of employees during non-business hours have made the process difficult.
What is clear about the future of GreeNDot at Notre Dame is it needs to be integrated into the common curriculum and culture, Gayheart said.
“[GreeNDot] needs to be a part of the institutionalized culture here,” he said. “GreeNDot shouldn’t have to be its own separate campaign; it should be part of the conversation and culture from day one.”
One of student government’s early campus safety initiatives this year was the Campus Safety Summit. While the event is held by campus’ various safety organizations each year, student government made a concerted effort to get students to attend what became one of the best-attended summits in recent years.
Now, Gayheart said, student government is planning to hold a second Campus Safety Summit in the spring, where he hopes students will be more able to speak directly with campus safety organizations.
“We might shift [the Summit] to more of a club fair type event — a little bit more conversational and more interactive, less people talking to the students and more people talking with [them],” he said.
While student government is looking to tackle a variety of issues related to campus safety, Shibata said Notre Dame maintains a relatively safe campus overall.
“We don’t really have a lot of crime at all, and certainly not a lot of violent crime,” Shibata said. “Our most common crime is theft, and it’s usually of unattended properties. … Our most common violent crime on campus is sexual assault, and those in more recent years have been reported more to Title IX than to the police.”
Shibata also said student government has formed a strong relationship with campus security.
“They’ve been very engaged,” Shibata said. “It’s helpful when students help communicate with students. Students tend to listen to them more than they might listen to me or our officers. So, helping to put out safety messages has been really helpful. … It’s been a really good relationship.”