February 12, 2013

Student Assembly Surveys Student Safety Concerns

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In the wake of several reported sexual assaults last semester, the Student Assembly released a safety survey early this month to undergraduate students to assess their campus safety concerns. The survey will remain live at least through the end of the month, according to Anisha Chopra ’13, chair of the Safety Task Force for the S.A.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re serving the students. We need to gauge their sentiments,” said Stephen Breedon ’14, vice president for public relations for the S.A.

The survey — which was created by S.A. Vice President of Outreach Ross Gitlin ’13 and Sarah Balik ’15, CALS representative — asks questions that Gitlin and Balik said they hope will help them understand  the needs of the student body.

One of the survey’s questions asks when students are walking home at night during the weekdays. Another asks how frequently students use the Blue Light User Extension Late Night Shuttle Van Service –– a bus service that runs during study periods between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3:45 a.m. and is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee, a mandatory fee that all undergraduates pay to fund initiatives that benefit the Cornell community, according to the S.A. website.

Chopra emphasized that the survey was created by students. She said she hopes this will encourage students to be more candid in their responses.

“We think the [Cornell University Police Department] and the administration [do] a great job in caring about safety concerns . . . but we wanted the survey to come from a student perspective,” Chopra said.

Chopra said she hopes the survey results will indicate that students found the B.L.U.E. shuttle a useful late-night resource.

“This survey will hopefully show that students continue to need the [B.LU.E] shuttle,” Chopra said.

Breedon said the survey aims to continue to alert the public of the existence of campus safety measures.

“If we’re using resources [money], we need to make sure that these resources are actually accessed,” Breedon said. “[The survey] is kind of like a self-check.”

Breedon and Chopra said that, in order to publicize the survey, the S.A. will continue to use social media, post the link in CUPD Chief Kathy Zoner’s weekly safety update emails and display information in campus libraries.

Chopra said another goal of the survey is to use its results as evidence for the administration that there “continues to be a sustainable need for students to have transportation late at night.”

“We can use all of these [survey results] and take our concerns to the administration. They are way more likely to help us if we say, ‘Here are actual numbers for you,’” Chopra said.

While Chopra said she hopes undergraduates will use the survey to voice their opinions about campus safety, she said the S.A. remains realistic about how many students will actually take the time to answer survey questions.

“Overall, if we get a response from 30 percent of undergraduates, that would be phenomenal,” Chopra said.

Both Breedon and Chopra said that marketing on a campus as large as Cornell’s is a formidable task.

Laena Frechette ’15 and Alana Harris ’15 echoed this sentiment, saying that they have never seen an advertisement for, let alone used, the B.L.U.E. shuttle.

“I don’t know more about it than the fact that it exists,” Harris said. “The schedule could be better publicized. I [usually] walk home or take the TCAT.”

Frechette said she has never used the shuttle, although she said she “continues to feel unsafe when I walk home alone at night.”

Gitlin said lack of student awareness about Cornell’s safety resources is a problem that the S.A. plans to combat with  marketing and public relations.

“The Student Assembly along with the administration, CUPD and many other student organizations are investing time and energy in trying to publicize resources that are already available,” he said.

Both Gitlin and Chopra referred to the student-created iPhone application, “ResCUer,” as one recent improvement in the way students are able to connect to safety resources at the University. The application contains phone numbers of resources such as CUPD and Gannett Health Services so students can better access them in emergency situations.

Gitlin said that the  survey results will be able to help the S.A. continue to affirm its commitment to student health and safety.

“[The S.A.] is thinking of other innovative ways to make the campus environment and climate comfortable for everyone in the Cornell community,” Gitlin said.

Original Author: Sarah Sassoon