The recent wave of assaults on or near campus has appropriately spurred responses from the University and the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) intended to enhance campus security. With new measures such as the 24-hour shuttle service, the Harvard University Campus Escort Service Program (HUCEP), increased HUPD patrols and the centralized hotline to help students better utilize these services, we would hope that Harvard would be safer place. However, students cannot take advantage of these services unless they know what they are and how to use them. All students should know the various options available to protect themselves from sexual aggressors.
It is especially important that students know how to access the safety hotline. This new service provides information on the on campus transportation options available at all hours of the day. Students can call this number in order to find out shuttle times, ask to be picked up and make requests for late-night police escorts. A centralized dispatcher will be in contact with all relevant transportation services—as well as HUCEP students via radio. Communication is a key part of the strategy to prevent future assaults, and boosting student awareness of these resources is the next major step.
In addition to utilizing the safety features implemented by HUPD, there are a number of practical measures that students should take in order to protect themselves from sexual assaults. Safety is, after all, our collective responsibility, and there is only so much that the University can realistically do. Making Harvard safer also requires that students become more cautious, making more conscious, deliberate choices to prevent putting themselves in danger.
Although better lighting in the Square is needed, and particularly on Cambridge Common, it is important to note that contrary to popular belief, most of the attack sites were well-lit and close to blue phones—and a few of them were even on the routes recommended by HUPD as “designated safety pathways.” This fact should suggest a valuable lesson for all Harvard students: just because a pathway is well-lit and widely-considered “safe” does not mean it is. Even when traveling through seemingly safe areas, it is important for students to be on their guard, for sexual assaults can happen anywhere.
Students should also be more cautious when traveling alone, and should walk in groups or pairs whenever possible. That all the victims of the attacks were solitary travelers should be evidence enough that walking alone is not advisable, especially after dark. Friends should look out for one another and accompany each other whenever possible. And students must also lose their reluctance to call on their peers through the HUCEP program when walking alone after dark. It may take longer to get home, but the effort is worth it if it prevents another assault from occurring.
More students also ought to utilize the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) class offered by HUPD. Divided up into four 4-hour weekly sessions, this class teaches students basic awareness, risk reduction, avoidance, basic physical defense and advanced self-defense methods. Though such programs would normally cost a hefty $250-400, RAD is offered to Harvard female undergraduates for free. Despite the obvious benefits of enrolling in a nationally acclaimed self-defense class, it is startling how few women have taken advantage of enrolling in RAD.
Above all, Harvard students should realize that together, all members of this community have a responsibility to address these safety issues and take the necessary measures to counter them. By offering services such as RAD and the HUCEP, the University has made significant new efforts to protect students. We are confident they will continue to do what they can to protect us. But students must take it from there.