April 24, 2012

Blue Light Sees Large Increase in Number of Calls for Help

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Correction appended

University officials said that the number of people requesting Blue Light escorts — trained community members who escort students to locations late at night — nearly doubled from last year.

“I think you can safely say escorts are up at least 50 percent from the same months in 2011,” said Kathy Zoner, chief of the Cornell University Police Department. For instance, Zoner said that the number of escorts requested increased from 6 in March 2011 to 11 in March 2012.

There are 123 Blue Light phones on campus, which allow students to contact CUPD for assistance. Blue Light escorts are hired and trained by CUPD to accompany students or visitors to any location on Cornell’s campus or close to campus. The escort service, operated by members of the Cornell University Police Auxiliary, runs from 8 p.m. through 2 a.m. every day of the week during the fall and spring semesters, according to the Cornell University Police website.

“I think it’s great that students are taking advantage of this service,” Mikella Goldman ’15 said. “Even if it ends up being nothing, you are better safe than sorry.”

Other students, such as Teresa Danso-Danquah ’15, said she considers the possibility of sexual assault when walking home at night is a “concern.”

The Blue Light escort system, however, is not the only safety initiative available on campus.

The Blue Light User Extension shuttle bus initiative was spearheaded last year by Natalie Raps ’12, president of the Student Assembly; Eva Drago ’12, president of the Women’s Resource Center; and Amanda Lomanov ’12, a fellow for Cornell Hillel. The main purpose of the shuttle bus is to provide students a safe way to return home at night after studying at the library during finals week, according to the organizers.

The BLUE vehicle — which can seat between 11 and 15 passengers — was used by 75 students during spring finals in 2011. During winter finals, nearly 200 students rode the shuttle bus.

The late-night shuttle bus will operate from May 7 to 10 from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., with buses picking up students about every 20 minutes from various locations on campus.

“The shuttle is distinct from regular TCAT services because it drops you off right at your door, rather than a bus stop, which might be far from your house,” Drago said.

Data indicate that most students who use the shuttle get off at North Campus, suggesting that freshmen and Greek students represent the biggest proportion of riders, Drago said.

Organizers anticipate an increase in ridership during finals week in May, as they said they are about to increase promotional efforts for the BLUE shuttle bus service — for instance, offering students who use the service free coffee or tea at Libe Café.

“This is a great service for people who want to use it,” Raps said. “There is plenty of room on the buses and we hope to see [the service] become more popular.”

The uptick in both Blue Light escort and shuttle bus services usage, Drago said, may show that there has been progress in increasing safety on campus.

“It’s notable that as usership of the BLUE shuttle and escort services increase, the number of emails we’ve received about forcible touching has decreased,” Drago said.

However, Drago leveled criticism against the administration for, she said, failing to take sufficient action to prevent sexual violence from occurring on campus.

“Though the University claims to support these initiatives [to reduce sexual assaults on campus], they have not taken action to do so,” she said.

While organizers considered using volunteer student drivers for the initiative, the University was not willing to accept the liability for doing so, according to Raps. Instead, the students got the help of the University’s transportation department.

Mark Hall, integrated distribution services manager for the Red Runner Courier Services — which has partnered with the S.A. and Women’s Resource Center to operate the BLUE shuttle bus service — emphasized the value of the BLUE service to the Cornell community.

“I really enjoy helping with this service,” Hall said. “I believe that this is a very important service for the student body.”

While Drago acknowledged that “many positive steps are being taken to make it safer to walk home late at night,” she said that “the most serious instances of sexual violence occur behind closed doors.”

“We have a long way to go in terms of preventing and responding to these cases,” she added.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous headline for this story incorrectly stated that the number of Bluelight calls made this year is a record. In fact, while the number of requests made did increase by a significant amount, the program has been used more frequently in the past.

Original Author: Danielle Sochaczevski

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