Campus safety concerns persist

University of Winnipeg attempts to mitigate incidents with services

The University of Winnipeg (U of W), located in downtown Winnipeg, has been no stranger to serious security incidents in recent years.

According to the Winnipeg Police Service, 17,280 criminal offences were committed in the downtown area from June 2018 to May 2019. This represents an increase of 9.47 per cent from the previous year and of 55 per cent from the 2014 to 2015 period.

Some of these incidents, occurring near or on campus, have received significant media coverage. In September of 2017, a student was robbed while sitting in the Bulman Student Centre during the day. Later that year, three individuals – including two students – were stabbed outside the university, which prompted a 33 per cent increase in the number of on-duty security guards on campus. In 2018, the media reported extensively on a case where a female student was assaulted while walking on campus.

Dr. Peter J. Miller, vice-president of the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association (UWFA), expressed some of the faculty members’ concerns.

“Aside from the shared concern for general safety and security on campus, faculty members in particular often work beyond regular hours, in isolated areas of the university, and on the weekends or evenings,” he says. During the evenings and weekends, faculty members can find themselves working alone, far from colleagues or security staff.

The U of W has attempted to address these safety concerns through various programs and initiatives. According to their website, the U of W Security Services, strives “to provide a safe, secure and healthy learning, living and working environment for its students, faculty, staff and visitors, while preserving a philosophy of unhindered community access.”

“Our security philosophy is that everyone is welcome on our campus, but no one is welcome to hide on campus or threaten the safety of others,” Michael Emslie, vice-president of finance and administration at the U of W, says. “It is a difficult balance, but one we take pride in.”

The U of W offers numerous services relating to safety on campus. SafeWalk, a partnership with the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, provides students and staff with an escort to their bus stop or parking spot within a block from campus. They operate Monday to Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Similarly, SafeRide offers car rides and operates within a slightly larger radius. Rides will be provided within the patrol area boundaries: William Avenue to the north, Assiniboine Avenue to the south, Sherbrook Street to the west and Main Street to the east.

Other initiatives include UW Safe, a mobile application which contains safety resources and provides emergency notifications. Furthermore, students are encouraged to purchase strong locks for their lockers with a discount on the Dudley high security series combination lock (available at the Campus Store).

Emslie believes these initiatives have been effective.

“We have seen a decrease in incidents since we have implemented changes like the increased guard presence, subsidized locks, and the renovations we performed, which is leading us to believe we are having an impact,” he says.

Dr. Miller, however, believes that the university administration has been receptive to faculty concerns only “to a degree.”

“Faculty sometimes feel that security and safety decisions are made with little or no input from us,” he says.

Kendall Ashcroft, a recent U of W graduate, acknowledges the safety concerns even though she has never had a negative experience.

“Unfortunately, I do think that a lot of students feel discouraged from studying at the university, especially in the evening hours, due to safety issues,” she says.

Emslie emphasizes that the campus is a welcoming and community-oriented place.

“We have a proud history of community engagement and many programs encouraging a broad spectrum of Winnipeggers and others to experience our campus,” he says.

For more information on the U of W Security Services, visit uwinnipeg.ca/security.

Published in Volume 74, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2019)

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