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Harvard’s failure to notify students about the termination of SafetyWalk and its continued publicizing of the program that no longer existed engendered a false sense of security among students and jeopardized their safety.
In the wake of six sexual assaults in the Harvard area since the start of the semester, students have become increasingly concerned with their security. Unfortunately, as many students in recent days sought the services of SafetyWalk—a late-night walking escort service run by students and heavily advertised by Harvard—they found that the organization had ceased to operate.
The University and the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) have flouted their responsibility to students and parents by trumpeting a program that has not been in existence for months. While SafetyWalk has “not completed their registration forms” to remain a registered student group, according to Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II, neither McLoughlin nor anyone else at the University made this fact public until last week. Until then, the University and HUPD had continued to cite the service as active.
The groups most directly responsible for student safety allowed news of SafetyWalk’s dissolution to slip through the cracks and promulgated a farcical safety provision: the College continued advertising SafetyWalk to students on blue light security phones, fire doors and in the Guide for the Class of 2007, and HUPD listed SafetyWalk’s phone number in its Guide for Keeping Safe at Harvard. Much of the information listed was not only outdated and inaccurate, but inconsistent as well. The SafetyWalk telephone number listed on some fire door stickers, for instance, directed students to the office of the Semitic Museum.
In light of the revelation that the safety resource touted by the University is defunct, students have begun to question Harvard’s priorities. Many see the miscommunication by the University and HUPD regarding the status of SafetyWalk as a sign of Harvard’s poor prioritization of student safety.
That Harvard did not make known the dissolution of SafetyWalk is tragic in itself. This particular blunder, however, is just one symptom of the University’s greater affliction—its over-reliance on students to keep themselves safe. Although students can certainly exercise common sense by walking in groups and avoiding dimly-lit areas, and a student-run program such as SafetyWalk can potentially be beneficial to keep members of the Harvard community secure, the University has a fundamental duty to provide additional safeguards that do not solely rely on students’ own volition.
With students’ security at stake, Harvard cannot delay taking stock of its safety resources. Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd recently announced that the Undergraduate Council’s Safety Committee, which she chairs, plans to review the HUPD’s alert notification system and campus shuttle services. These steps are auspicious, but the University’s efforts must be more extensive, including a thorough appraisal of all the safety resources available on campus. Harvard must investigate and confirm each services actual time of operation and level of use and then make this updated information accessible to students. In addition, the University must conduct a quality review of its resources, shutting down or revamping services functioning poorly and creating new ones when necessary.
Although Harvard has clearly failed with SafetyWalk, it now has the chance to redeem itself by launching a concerted effort to improve safety resources and give students the security that they deserve.
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