College is a time for students to pursue their academic, professional and personal aspirations. Questions of personal safety and security should not be at the forefront of their minds, and over the past year, numerous advancements have been made to address students’ concerns of safety and security. However, recent incidents of sexual assault and crime right outside our front gates and on campus warrant a re-evaluation of the resources and tools that we have to address student safety.
Sexual assault is an endemic problem across college campuses, the United States and the world as a whole. Our administration and students have made great strides in developing policies and initiatives that contribute to a more survivor-centric campus. On an institutional level, departments like our own Georgetown University Police Department, Counseling and Psychiatric Services and other services across campus are attempting to address sexual assault and misconduct. There has also been an increase in access points for resources and professional assistance in the case of an emergency.
The available resources to addressing issues of sexual misconduct and assault do not stop there. Sexual Assault Peer Educators is a group “that aims to create a survivor-centric campus at Georgetown,” while other annual initiatives such as “Are You Ready?” and “Take Back the Night” continue to show how students and community members maintain a commitment to the cause.
In addition, bystander intervention programming was implemented in this year’s New Student Orientation so all students know how to more effectively help their peers when dangerous situations arise. Meanwhile, CAPS has been offering a semester’s worth of free appointments and services for sexual assault survivors and accused perpetrators since April 2016.
All these initiatives are positive and welcome. They are serious reforms and programs that will have a benefit for our community as a whole. However, beyond our front gates — specifically in the neighborhoods of Burleith and West Georgetown — we must ask how our institution can better improve the lives of those who live outside main campus boundaries.
Students who live off campus face unique dangers that do not apply to students residing on campus. 2015 statistics from the FBI and MPD show that Washington, D.C., has over two times as many reported assaults and over five times as many reported robberies compared to the national average. Although our school is in one of the safest areas of D.C., according to Neighborhood Scout, students living outside our gates are at a greater risk of harm and, as recent cases of sexual assaults in the neighborhood demonstrate, there is a need for additional security.
We can never truly live in a community that is totally rid of robberies, sexual assault and other criminal activity. However, there are steps the university can take to make students who live off campus safer.
First, the shuttle and ride sharing programs that already exist can improve their response times and expand the amount of services they provide. Currently, neighborhood shuttles operate between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, allowing students living in areas like Burleith, West Georgetown and as far as Dupont Circle access to a safe and reliable mode of transportation. However, there should be a greater push to have the shuttles operate more frequently. Two separate incidents of sexual assault occurred off campus Sept. 12 and Sept. 5 — days on which the shuttle service was not offered.
There is also SafeRides, a free ride ordering service operating late at night, operates on a daily basis and can be requested by phone between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.. However, students often report long wait times upward of 30 minutes that can deter people from using the service in the future.
The university should also seek to make students who choose to walk home safer. One way to do this would be to encourage more students to use the services that currently exist to keep them safe while they walk. UAsk Washington D.C., a mobile app that includes a collection of phone numbers, resources and contacts specifically for those dealing with sexual assault, is available for all to download free of charge. The program also includes a specific messaging service to put students into immediate contact with emergency responders and the police.
The introduction of the free LiveSafe app to campus also allows students quick and easy access to resources including GUPD, MPD and GERMS. It also includes the Georgetown-specific Safe Walk program, an initiative that allows individuals to share their location and information with friends to ensure they reach a destination safely.
However, there are institutional changes that would not just make students safer in dangerous situations, but also reduce the amount of danger overall. Several students report lack of lighting that contributes to this dangerous environment and seek more patrols by GUPD and MPD in the neighborhoods themselves. Increasing the amount of lighting and increasing the patrols outside our gates should have an effect of deterring potentially dangerous actors. It was a patrol car that was in the right place at the right time when police arrested an individual for sexual assault on Sept. 17.
This would be an ambitious solution as the university has often faced resistance from the surrounding neighborhoods when undertaking policies that appear to expand the university’s presence off main campus. However, these expanded safety measures as in the best interests of local residents. They have families and children who live in these areas, so the concerns of college students, in this case, should align with their concerns of safety and security as well. Such initiatives serve to only make everyone — students and local residents alike — safer. To enact effective change, one of the first steps should be to engage with local neighborhood councils, like the Burleith Citizens Association, to explore these options.
On campus, there should also be an open forum that invites members of the neighborhood, GUPD, administrators and students to openly engage in a discussion of major concerns as well as possible solutions. This can be a platform where personal stories and anecdotes are highlighted in order to put a voice to those who face these potential risks.
This could be facilitated by a collaboration between the current Sexual Assault Working Group, which brings together faculty, staff and students to address sexual misconduct on the Hilltop while educating and encouraging discussion on the issue in conjunction with GUPD and the new Campus Climate Volunteer Corps. These groups representing the university and student interests to the neighborhood could create meaningful breakthroughs in regard to student safety by engaging in these issues with an emphasis on data, practical solutions and personal stories.
From the progress our university has made with issues of sexual assault, it is clear that our community’s safety is a primary concern. Looking ahead, we must also consider issues of security and safety that affect our off-campus community. In order to make Georgetown a home for all, we must make a commitment to not only making our campus a safer place, but the neighborhood beyond our gates as well.