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In recent years, students and administrators have worried about security on Harvard's campus. After a number of violent crimes in the Cambridge area, a group of students have acted reinforce the University's existing escort services by establishing a walking escort service of their own. The organizers of SafetyWalk are on a quest to make sure that...
Currier House resident Katherine A. Hanify '93 knows it's unsafe to walk alone.
"I've run into bad situations walking from Lowell to Eliot. That's a block," Hanify says. "I once ran into 12 guys who were just grabbing me."
Now Hanify is taking steps to ensure that she and other Harvard students won't have to walk alone on Cambridge streets after dark any longer.
Hanify and four others have organized a new walking escort service called SafetyWalk, which aims to supplement the current University shuttle and vehicle escort services by providing an option for students going too short a distance to ask for a bus or car.
Hanify says she hopes students who normally walk alone to Store-24 will now call for a walking escort instead of risking their safety for a late-night snack.
"It would be useful for distances that are so short that it would be annoying to wait for the shuttle," Hanify said.
Organizers also say that walking escorts will provide students with an option to waiting outside late at night for an escort or shuttle.
"Often you have to wait for a driving escort or a shuttle for 10 to 20 minutes, which is no safer than just walking home," says Minna Jarvenpaa '93, former co-chair of the Radcliffe Union of Students, which donated SafetyWalk's $800 budget.
The University runs a vehicle escort service between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. In addition, the regular campus shuttle service runs until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
Sgt. Lawrence Fennelly of the Harvard University Police Department says the two escort cars transport 1,500 to 1,800 students and employees annually.
Fennelly says that the police department fully supports the Harvard students' efforts to get SafetyWalk off the ground.
The department is providing training for walking escorts on how best to respond to an attack and how to patrol the campus at night.
Walkers will escort students, faculty and staff Sunday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Organizers hope to eventually operate seven days a week.
Teams of escorts will patrol the Quad, the Yard, and the River Houses, joining any lone walkers and responding to calls relayed to them by a dispatcher through beepers.
The dispatcher will relay calls to teams of walkers by beeping them and displaying a number corresponding to the location of the student to be walked.
The walkers, easily recognizable by their reflective jackets, beepers and identification cards, will not only act as their own advertisement by joining students who walk alone, but will make the campus safer just by being on the streets, Hanify says.
"A visible presence of teams serves to make the entire area more safe. They are almost a neighborhood watch. It may just increase the security of the area," she says.
The organization of SafetyWalk comes in the wake of recent concerns about violence in Cambridge and campus security at Harvard.
At Harvard, incidents such as the Raustein murder, the stabbing murder of Law School professor Mary Jo Frug last April and the recent hold-up of two undergraduates outside Mather House should be awakening students to the realities that student have to be careful in Cambridge, according to Hanify.
In Cambridge, the stabbing murder of MIT junior Yngve K. Raustein in September and other assaults have increased demand for MIT's shuttle service so dramatically that the university purchased two more vans this fall.
Lionel Hall resident Bess Wohl '96 says she would have appreciated a walking escort when she was followed into the Yard and into the enclosed North Yard by a man who was standing outside Store 24.
"Until now I had no idea there was a problem," Whol says. "No one ever stresses to you that crime is a problem. [Walking escorts] would be good, especially if there were more publicity and people were aware that Cambridge is a dangerous place."
Cabot House resident Jennifer A. Goldberg '94 says SafetyWalk will be an important service.
"It's really not safe to be walking alone at night, especially for women," Goldberg says. "The shuttle bus service ends after a certain point and is not always convenient. I live in the Quad so if I'm down by the river I don't like to walk back by myself. I would use [SafetyWalk] then."
And organizers say the increased awareness about crime and security may ensure the success of SafetyWalk, despite the history of unsuccessful walking escort service programs at Harvard. The most recent attempt--three years ago--was crippled by a lack of student use.
"I don't think the old program failed because there wasn't a need. It was because they weren't well advertised and they weren't well organized," says SafetyWalk organizer Carolyn A. McKee '93. "We're hoping this will be different."
Students have already expressed their interest by volunteering for walker and dispatcher posts at SafetyWalk. Approximately 90 students have volunteered, and Hanify says she is still receiving calls from interested students.
"With all that has been happening there is reawakening of awareness," Hanify says.
The new service will differ from past attempts in two ways.
First, the SafetyWalk dispatcher will work closely with the vehicle escort dispatcher.
Some calls to the vehicle service may be referred to SafetyWalk depending on the location of the caller or the distance needed for the escort.
Second, the program's walkers will not sit and wait for calls, but will patrol the campus and stay in touch with the dispatcher through beepers.
Radcliffe Assistant Dean Rosa B. Shinagel agrees that the group has a better chance of survival than past groups because of a new emphasis on security concerns on campus.
"I'm not sure that the undergraduates [at the time of the last service] were as aware of the dangers as they are not," says Shinagel. "The student culture about what is acceptable to do will embrace this as something that is welcome. Some of the incidents on campus since the last service have been sobering."
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