Geography professor Kim England teaches a class every fall quarter entitled “Women and the City” and assigns her students a simple task: Figure out what areas on campus people think are dangerous.
Last year, then-senior Abigail Pearl decided to take the assignment a step further, surveying almost 1,000 UW students and staff and asking them what they perceived as the most unsafe areas around the university.
Pearl helped found the ASUW Committee on Student Safety last year, and was expecting to only get a handful of responses after sending her survey out to the ASUW listserv.
After responses came in tenfold, she began working with England and then-senior Sonya Prasertong, who was also in England’s class, to evaluate the data and create a map showing the geography of perceived student safety in the U-District.
“As a women’s studies major, and a woman, I think myself and others feel unsafe more than other people might,” Pearl said. “One of the big issues is that women in particular curtail their activities based on perception.”
Pearl decided to open up the survey to both men and women on campus, and has subdivided the results to look more in-depth at gender differences in perception, but said that she did expect more results from women.
The survey produced 994 responses, with each respondent selecting up to five perceived unsafe areas on campus. Participants, 97 percent of whom were students, were asked why they felt these areas were unsafe, and what aspects about them could be changed.
Some of the top 10 areas listed as unsafe included the Ave, the staircase leading to the IMA from north campus, the north of 45th Street community, and south campus around the UW Medical Center. Pearl said that many of these responses were consistent with the commuter culture, with many of those areas as entry points into campus. Fifty-six percent of respondents indicated that they came to campus by car or bus.
Some results, like Memorial Way, were surprising to the survey creators, considering how well-lit and well-trafficked the area is. But Pearl said that much of that perception might come from the amount of construction in the area in the past few years around Paccar Hall and William H. Gates Hall.
Two-thirds of those surveyed said that they consciously shift their daily routine to avoid traveling to certain areas and doing activities at night.
“Along with more social events, people miss out on after-hours study sessions like CLUE because they didn’t feel safe,” Pearl said.
Pearl said that when the results are finalized later this quarter, they will be presented to those individuals in administration who have the authority to make changes, like Interim President Phyllis Wise and UWPD officials.
“If the administration can recognize that the general UW community is a huge resource, improvements can easily and cheaply be made,” Prasertong said.
UWPD Cmdr. Jerome Solomon said that his department takes survey results like these in conjuction with actual crime statistics to assess levels of crime in the area.
“We try to be sensitive to people’s concerns,” he said. “If [these results] line up with what the numbers say, then obviously it’s an area that we need to take a closer look at.”
Norm Arkans, associate vice president of Media Relations and Communications, said that individual departments on campus responsible for lighting, overgrowth maintenance and policing would utilize the results.
“We welcome results, and if there are areas on campus that need attention, they’ll be attended to,” he said. “We’re always interested in trying to improve safety.”
Both Pearl and England also hope to establish a system where stickers with relevant safety information are handed out to incoming freshmen and placed in various locations, like at emergency phones, so helpful information is readily available.
“There’s not enough information about research and services on campus compiled in one place,” England said. “You need to be able to access it, and an emergency sticker everywhere on campus would help.”
Another strategy they proposed is to add a safety page during registration with phone numbers, encouraging students to save those numbers in their cell phones in case of an emergency.
But England, Pearl and Prasertong all agree that generic safety tips, such as not walking alone, just don’t apply often enough.
“Putting in generic steps like walking in groups just aren’t feasible all the time,” England said. “In some instances it’s just absurd, especially when 61 percent of respondents said that they rarely walk in groups around campus.”
Pearl hopes that short-term changes like replacing lighting and trimming undergrowth can be made now, but she said that the survey needs to be replicated and there needs to be follow-up from the administration.
“You need to have some control over your environment,” Prasertong said, “and understanding campus perception can help.”
Reach reporter Nick Visser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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