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Getting a ‘Safe Ride’ Home This Holiday

by Montclarion News
Students surveyed believe an off-campus escort service should be offered to students at Montclair State. Photo courtesy of DeusXFlorida (Flickr)

Students surveyed believe an off-campus escort service should be offered to students at Montclair State.
Photo courtesy of DeusXFlorida (Flickr)

Montclair State University, like many colleges, has a good standing when it comes to on-campus safety programs to protect the student body, but many students question if this type of protection is enough.

Last month, Chief of Police Paul Cell sent out an email reminding students to take caution when leaving Montclair State. Initiatives from Residential Life and Health Promotion have also promoted staying safe off-campus. But, given recent events that have occurred off-campus, in which a Montclair State student was allegedly sexually assaulted and another student became the victim of a hit-and-run accident, many feel that off-campus safety options for students need to be implemented on a larger scale.

The majority of students at Montclair State are aware of the campus safety options provided to them by the university, such as the Guardian application and the escort service provided by University Police (UPD). However, freshman and transfer students who arrive on the campus every semester may not be as well-informed as junior or senior students about the different ways to stay safe or call for help. Results of an online survey conducted by The Montclarion revealed that, amongst the 137 residential and commuter undergraduate students surveyed, 70 percent attend off-campus events on most weekends and 40 percent of these students have difficulty and/or complications getting back home after these events on a regular basis.

Some students have tried to bring the issue of staying safe off-campus to student leadership. Last year, student

Eva Shapiro pitched the idea of having a student off-campus safety transportation vehicle to the Student Government Association (SGA). Her idea was rejected.

After an interview regarding her proposal, Shapiro said, “I think that there should be specifically something for students here because it’s important that we take care of our students not only when they’re on campus, but when they’re off campus.”

The Montclarion was not able to obtain a comment from the SGA about the rejection of Shapiro’s proposal.
Shapiro came up with the idea for an off-campus escort service after taking a weekend visit to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., where she experienced the courtesy of a non-profit student-safety ride service called SafeRides. SafeRides is dedicated to keeping the students of James Madison University safe. Their motto is “How Are You Getting Home This Weekend?”

A few colleges and universities in New Jersey, such as Rider University, William Paterson University, Ramapo College and The College of New Jersey, have already taken the leap to provide safety transportation services similar to SafeRides to their students.

The final question of The Montclarion’s survey asked, “Do you think Montclair State should have a non-profit safety transportation vehicle for students available between the hours of 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. for students who have no way of getting home?” 100 percent of the students who took the online survey agreed that Montclair State should offer a service such as this to their students.

During an interview, Lieutenant Kieran Barrett of the University Police Department explained the choices that students have on campus and also shared his thoughts on having a student safety transportation vehicle or shuttle at the university.

“We have a number of programs [like] the Guardian, which is an app that students can [be] opted into. It tracks them whether they’re walking on campus or around the area. If something doesn’t go right, [it allows the student to] press a panic button and we will respond to that location. It is GPS-enabled.”

If the panic button on the app goes off and the student happens to be in another town or state, UPD will track the student and call a nearby police station in their current area to check to see if that student is safe. However, the Guardian app exists in very few places, including Montclair, N.J. Barrett mentioned that UPD would have to explain thoroughly the app and its significance to that off-campus station in order to attend to the student if this situation were to happen, which is a downside of the Guardian app.

Barrett said that the majority of worst-case scenarios happen off-campus. Therefore these off-campus incidents are handled by off-campus police departments. He also disclosed that UPD receives between 25 and 30 calls on average in one academic school year from students who have no way of getting back to their residence halls from an off-campus event, have been lost or are in trouble in the early hours of the morning.

“We usually try to help as much as we can possibly help them,” said Barrett, “whether that’s getting them in contact with a taxi company or getting a safe ride with one of their friends. As a last resort, we may even go down to pick them up, depending on the availability of officers. We obviously have a number of things going on here at the university.”

Even still, receiving a safe ride home is not guaranteed. UPD also sends occasional campus-wide emails, like the one from Cell sent on Nov. 10, that explain a variety of safety precautions students should take before heading out to events on weekends.

Barrett said that he supported the idea of an off-campus escort transportation service. He is also aware that the idea was pitched a year ago to the SGA, but that the proposal was never executed, leaving students to wonder if Montclair State would be willing to get on board with a program such as SafeRides to ensure student safety off campus.

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