November 7, 2012

Students to Cornell: Late-Night Van Service Should Be Year-Round

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Correction appended

Stressing the importance for students to feel safe returning home late at night, students are calling on the University to expand the B.L.U.E. late-night shuttle program, a van service that provides rides to students. As of Wednesday night, about 530 people had signed an online petition.

“Due to the prevalence of hate crimes and increased reporting about public sexual assault perpetrated by strangers at Cornell University, many students have expressed concerns about their safety when walking home alone after dark on campus and its surrounding areas,” the petition says. “By signing this petition, you are insisting that the administration be steadfast in providing funds to allow five B.L.U.E. shuttle vans to run continuously from 9:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. every night during the academic year.”

The Blue Light User Extension shuttle — which currently runs five times a year, for three to four nights each time, during prelim, midterm and final exam seasons — stops at four locations on campus and also drops students off at their homes anywhere on campus, in Collegetown or in Cayuga Heights. Only one shuttle van runs from 11 p.m. to 3:45 a.m., but students say Cornell should fund five vans to operate daily throughout the academic year.

The program is funded by the Cornell Women’s Resource Center, which receives byline funding through the Student Activity Fee.

The petition calls for the administration to have five vans operate daily from 9:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. On weekdays, the proposed vans would run along the route already established for exam periods, while an alternate route would be created for the weekend to better match students’ social lives, according to the petition.

Dominique Thomas ’13, a B.L.U.E. coordinator and co-author of the petition, said in an email that B.L.U.E. shuttles “should be a staple in the Cornell community” because, she said, they provide a necessary means by which to ensure students get home at night “safe and sound.”

“People should feel safe no matter if they are returning from studying at the library or socializing with friends,” Thomas said.

While the students who distributed the petition emphasized that expanding the services offered by B.L.U.E. will not put an end to all sexual assaults, they said incorporating the shuttle into the daily campus culture will contribute to a sense of a safe community — something they say has been lacking in recent years.

“Having a dependable ride home contributes to building a sense of safety and community, which have slowly diminished in recent times for many Cornell students,” Ashley Harrington ’13, an advisory board member of the WRC and a co-author of the petition, said in an email. “The urgency and the need for a shuttle immediately, and the desire to create a petition, arose from the diminishing sense of safety that many students were feeling on campus as a result of the increased crime alerts being sent out to the community.”

On Sept. 2, two forcible touchings were reported — one in Collegetown and the other in the parking lot near Hughes Dining. Within hours of these incidents, a rape was reported near the suspension bridge north of the Arts Quad. Then, on Sept. 27, an attempted rape was reported near the trolley bridge connecting the engineering quad and Oak Avenue.

Students who drafted the B.L.U.E. petition say that providing a safe mode of transportation for students leaving campus late at night would be a good first step to increasing students’ safety.

Still, Harrington cautioned that the petition was drafted “in response to safety concerns — not as a solution to sexual assault and hate crimes on campus.”

Margo Cohen Ristorucci ’13, an advisory board member of the WRC, a B.L.U.E. coordinator and petition co-author, added that B.L.U.E. efforts are not meant to “distract our campus community from the real roots of discriminatory violence.”

“The B.L.U.E. shuttle is undeniably a service that would better Cornell, but nighttime and walking home alone do not perpetrate rape — and B.L.U.E. does not prevent the danger that comes from unequal social relationships and power dynamics,” said Cohen Ristorucci, a senior writer at The Sun.

Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner added that the desire for late-night transportation has been expressed by students for several years and that recent sexual assault reports have bolstered awareness of this need.

“It’s been clear to us that  [a late-night system of transportation] is a need that the students have had for at least a little while. So I’d definitely support a program for that,” she said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with any specific incidents, it’s just something our community has been asking for for some time.”

Both Harrington and Thomas agreed that the need for a late-night transportation system was brought to the foreground, but not created, by the recent incidents. The increased shuttle is a dream the coordinators and drafters of the petition said they have had for a while.

“We live in a very cold climate, on a large campus, with demanding academic schedules and transportation home is a basic function that the University should provide,” Harrington said. “A free means of transportation, in my opinion, is a necessity, regardless of the campus climate.”

Thomas added that although the Blue Light Escort Service and Walkshare programs have their place on campus for those that wish to walk home, she has observed that most students would rather be driven home, especially during the cold weather months.

“People should not have to pay for taxis to take them home or wait for TCAT [buses] that do not run past 2 a.m.,” Thomas said.

Zoner said students have complained that the University does not provide a late-night ride option, leading CUPD to fall “under a lot of criticism” for its walking escort program.

B.L.U.E. coordinators will present the petition to President David Skorton and relevant upper-level administrators once 1,000 people have signed it.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story said that the Blue Light User Extension shuttle is funded by the Cornell Women’s Research Center. In fact, the organization that funds the program is called the Cornell Women’s Resource Center.

Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak