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Saint Mary’s senior creates petition for improved campus safety, receives almost 1,500 signatures in three days

| Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Saint Mary’s senior Darby Harcourt created a Change.org petition for “an improved security system and additional cameras” on campus on Friday, the same day that police recovered the body of Notre Dame senior Annrose Jerry from St. Mary’s Lake. By Monday, almost 1,500 people had signed in support.

Though the petition was created in the wake of Jerry’s disappearance and later death on campus, Harcourt said other personal experiences had prompted her to demand change.

She had been afraid for years, Harcourt said, and the events surrounding Jerry’s death inspired her to act.

“I got really scared,” she said. “When I found out that happened, I called my dad and I said, ‘I want to make a petition.’”

Harcourt said she used to park her car in the gravel lot at the back of campus, and was shocked to discover that there were no cameras installed overhead. When she wrote an email to the administration voicing her concerns, no one responded.

In her petition, Harcourt describes an ever-present fear that she feels when walking alone.

“As a woman in today’s world, I live in constant fear of being attacked or taken, regardless of where I am or what time of day it is,” the petition said. “Being on an all women campus, I believe there needs to be a stronger push in ensuring our students feel safe to walk around not only [on] campus, but also the school parking lots all times of the day.”

For Harcourt, this fear manifested when she was a senior in high school and an unknown man attempted to hijack her car in a Target parking lot.

“Someone tried to get into my car and drive off with me and take me at a Target at 9 p.m. when everyone was around,” Harcourt said. “Luckily, I freaked out and got away. And even though he ran after me, I ran up to up to random people, and … I got home safe.”

Since this incident, Harcourt said she is always especially cautious when walking through parking lots and entering parked cars. She said this experience catalyzed her requests for heightened surveillance and safety on campus at Saint Mary’s.

“Currently, our school parking lots do not have adequate lighting or any form of camera system, which is not only a red flag but extremely unsafe for every individual on campus,” the petition said.

In the petition, Harcourt asks that the College install more cameras throughout campus, paying specific attention to the parking lots.

“My main concern is just having those cameras where we can just feel a little safer,” she said. “Just being able to walk around and feeling secure. You know, things still will happen even with cameras … but with people knowing that there’s cameras, it’ll be less.”

Harcourt also suggests the addition of security checkpoints at the entrances and exits to campus.

She especially emphasized the need for increased safety at the intersection of State Route 933, where The Avenue becomes St. Mary’s Road.

“Freshman year, we — and this is sad that I have to say this — but freshman year you learn that that road is called Rape Road,” Harcourt said. “That’s already a concern in itself. It takes one time. Prevent it now. Don’t wait until it happens.”

At the same time, Harcourt said she believes Saint Mary’s is largely a safe place to live, though she still sees room for improvement.

“I’m not saying that Saint Mary’s isn’t safe, I’m saying it could be safer,” she said. “Everywhere I go, I feel unsafe. It’s not just Saint Mary’s. But I want this place to be safe. I love everyone here, And I know Saint Mary’s wants the same thing.”

Safety improvements should be made all across the tri-campus community, Harcourt added.

“For all of the three institutions, I know there is much to be done to improve the student’s safety and desperately hope Saint Mary’s recognizes this need as well, as our safety is at risk,” the petition said. “I want to be safe, and I want my peers to be safe. There needs to be immediate change. This is more important now than ever.”

Since sharing the petition on Friday, Harcourt said she has felt encouraged by the growing support from both current students, their parents and alumnae. The response had been largely positive, she said, with some people contributing their own ideas on how to improve campus safety.

“It’s kind of weird to see how many people actually signed it,” she said. “I was crying all of Saturday. It was just nice to see that people believed in what I said.”

Interim vice president of student affairs Linda Timm responded to Harcourt’s petition by encouraging students to reach out to the campus security office to make them aware of any areas of safety concern.

“The safety of our students is our primary concern,” Timm said in an email. “As such, we continually look at information that helps us provide a more secure environment. One source of such information is from our campus community who let us know if there is an area that could benefit from better lighting, or a security camera, or even maintenance on a hedge that might hinder a sightline.”

Safety has been a major initiative within the leadership of the College, Timm said, and plans are in motion to install updated cameras throughout campus.

“Planning has been in process for several months to replace old analogue cameras with digital,” she said. “We currently have all of the hardware to install more than 70 new security cameras around campus. Currently, our director of facilities and our interim director of campus safety are determining the location of each of these cameras, and encourage input from students and faculty.”

Security officers traveling the campus perimeter also provide 24/7 monitoring of the property, Timm said.

“It’s important that our entire campus community — students, faculty, and staff — feel confident of their safety,” she said. “We have, and will continue to, invest in measures to ensure this.”

The administration has yet to contact Harcourt and respond to her petition directly, but Harcourt said she plans on approaching them with her specific ideas on how to improve campus safety.

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