Students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse reconsidered campus safety issues after a sexual assault took place in Sanford Hall in September 2014. Campus police and the Violence Prevention Office have adopted measures, such as implementing the Blue Light Program, providing the “Choices and Challenges” section, and creating The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act to ensure students' safety, but few students know about them.
The Blue Light System
The victim in this fall’s assault case in Sanford Hall reported the crime, but there still remains a number of incidents that go unreported. Campus police are challenged with not only eliminating sexual assault on campus, but also creating an environment where students feel safe reporting these crimes. For instance, they have installed blue light emergency phones all around campus.
According to Scott McCollough, the Interim Chief of Police on campus, there are thirty-three blue light phone stations, all of which were updated in 2014.
“Because of these updates, the phones have more capabilities. In the past, they functioned more like a regular phone and could call any number on campus. Now, the phones function like a 911 emergency phone bank. The dispatcher answers and can ask questions about the situation taking place and the student can respond,” says McCollough. “It is a two-way communication. There is a phone outside of each residence hall and with these. The students are able to call the front desk of the hall in case they are locked out.”
McCollough also said they plan to install cameras on each phone station to improve functionality, however this decision would be up for discussion because of the assumed breach of privacy. Cameras could help identify an assailant or help the dispatcher by providing an image of the event if the student is verbally impaired. Also, the cameras could help in situations in which the phones have been used inappropriately.
“They are used by mistake many times,” says McCollough. He explains that people hit the button as a prank, or students who have been out drinking late at night hit the buttons by mistake.
However, the phones are not a way for students to call and be escorted. Several years ago, there was a similar system in place and Student Services provided escorts for students who didn’t feel safe walking home alone. Many campuses still have similar services. If necessary, an officer from campus police would be able to provide an escort.
McCollough estimates that the phones only get one to two legitimate calls a year. Considering the number of students on campus and blue light phones, he regards the number is quite low, meaning one of two things: either the incidences when students feel threatened is low, or students are not aware of the phone system.
Students’ Unawareness of the Blue-light
According to the University of Wisconsin System 2012 Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, the campus Violence Prevention Specialist gives a presentation to all incoming freshmen at orientation, and a separate presentation is given to all incoming international students. However, as McCollough has said, those methods may have changed and the campus police are only involved if they are invited.
To examine the UW-L students’ knowledge about the Blue Light Program, a survey was conducted. 51 students, including 40 female students took the survey.
59% of the students surveyed did not know about the Safewalk Program at UW-L. The results also showed none of the students surveyed have used this Safewalk Program, because they hadn’t been taught how to use the Blue Light Emergency Phone.
78% of students have never received the information about the Safewalk Program from UW-L.
84% of the students surveyed did not know about other programs to prevent sexual assault at UW-L.
Several students didn’t remember if they were educated about the phones or not during orientation week, despite McCollough saying they were. International Students were sure they weren’t notified about the phones. The police only give presentations at orientation when they are invited.
“It’s hit or miss, sometimes we do sometimes we don’t,” says McCollough. “I would guess that identifies a lack of education on the blue lights right there.”
The purpose of campus police is to keep students safe while on campus. The UW-L Police Department stated that a variety of blue-light emergency telephones have been strategically located throughout campus, and the telephones automatically ring to University Police when activated. Officers patrol campus at times they believe are higher risk and test the blue phones and the phones in the elevators which work in a similar way as the blue light phones.
Office of Student Life- Violence Prevention Works to Find Ways to Prevent Sexual Assault
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse takes the safety of their students seriously. The UW-L Office of Student Life-Violence Prevention makes it their mission to help keep students safe. They assist students, faculty, and staff members with advocacy, information, and offer education, support and training to the campus community. They’ve made several changes over the past few years as the issues surrounding sexual assaults on campus have become an increasing national issue. Between the Steubenville, Ohio incident and the University of Virginia incident, it now appears on news programs and front pages daily.
Statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center have shown that reported campus sexual assaults have been on the rise. The reason for this is due to new legislation making it easier for students to report sexual assault. Recently, sexual assault on college campuses has become a part of the agenda at the White House and in Congress. President Obama commissioned a special task force on this topic and has continued to make more resources for college students and campus employees like notalone.gov. The House of Representatives and Senate worked together to create The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.
It is the Violence Prevention office’s responsibility to correctly implement programs to follow the guidelines. In recent years, there have been several changes and new programs that the office has implemented. During new student orientation, a section called, “Choices and Challenges,” is presented to the students. Students act out different possible scenarios that they may have to deal with during their college years. “Think About It,” is a new online course that all incoming students are required to take. Ingrid Peterson, Violence Prevention Specialist, also talks with students.
Peterson explains, “It covers sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, and alcohol.”
Peterson also speaks with students around campus all year round. She thinks one of the biggest issues is our culture surrounding sexual assault.
“Too often sexual assault is not correctly identified. People may not classify being assaulted by someone they know as sexual assault,” says Ingrid. “So firstly we want people to know how to correctly identify it.”
The Office of Student Life-Violence Prevention works to prevent violent, threatening behavior. Peterson hopes by changing the culture and finding ways to continually prevent sexual assault, precautionary measures such as blue security phones or rape whistles will not necessarily be needed things anymore.
Staying Safe on Campus
After a startling event like the assault in Sanford Hall this fall, new concerns arise about the prevention of sexual assault campus wide. Students may become more aware of their surroundings for the next couple of months, but soon the hype dies down, the stories leaves the papers and life goes on. It’s the job and responsibility of Campus Police and Student Life organizations to do all they can to prevent these events through education and campus services like the Blue Light Phones. Education may be the key to it all, but students should always look out for each other and themselves.