Concerns about student safety

Precautions and SafeWalk escorts increase on campus

Many in the University of Winnipeg community have been taking stock of feelings of safety after two violent or threatening incidents occurred on campus in November. (Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black)

During this academic year, University of Winnipeg (U of W) students and staff members have requested 236 SafeWalk escorts and 49 SafeRides, according to data published by the Winnipeg Free Press in late December.

This is a significant increase since the 2018-2019 semesters (the last full school year unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic), when people on campus requested 137 walks and 49 rides.

For people who commute to campus, both the SafeWalk and SafeRide programs connect students and staff members with escorts who can accompany them to cars, parking lots or bus stops within a limited radius of the university.

Caleb Zimmerman, the U of W’s executive director of marketing and communications, says campus security is “trained to face situations of concern on a continuous basis.” Two notable “situations of concern” occurred during this past fall semester.

On Nov. 18, a U of W student and staff member was reportedly assaulted on campus. Days before, the university featured heavily in the news after students and security staff were threatened with a machete on campus. The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) reported a man who was “aggressively” swinging a machete and “gesturing a physical attack.” No one was injured, and the man was detained.

Zimmerman says that “since complex situations are an expected part of their role, an individual incident does not change the way (security staff does) their jobs.” However, he says the campus security team is working with the WPS, as well as downtown organizations, to address an apparent increase in crime.

A monthly WPS statistics report says the number of violent crimes committed in September 2022 rose by 22.6 per cent from September of the previous year.

To “ensure a high level of safety on campus,” Zimmerman says the U of W will control access to campus buildings after hours and heighten the security presence at certain campus entrances.

He says there are other safety resources available to students, staff and faculty, including the UW Safe App, which sends out safety alerts, allows users to contact campus security officers and links users to other campus resources. The free app is available on the App Store and Google Play.

In a statement to The Uniter, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) emphasizes their commitment to safety, their positive relationship with U of W security and their role in developing initiatives like the UW Safe App, SafeWalk and SafeRides.

“The UWSA is continually working alongside the University of Winnipeg to find more appropriate resources that students can use,” the statement reads. “For example, a great new initiative we’ve discovered is the Downtown Community Safety Partnership (DCSP). DCSP increases the safety and well-being of anyone around campus or in the downtown Winnipeg area.”

The Uniter spoke to students on campus about their experiences in light of the recent incidents. While these students generally feel safe, their on-campus experiences and knowledge of security resources vary.

Samuel, a first-year student who frequents the lounge on the mezzanine level of the Bulman Centre, says the incidents in November haven’t changed the fact that he feels safe on campus. However, he says he only sees security come through the lounge area every three or four hours, and he would like to see that increased.

“They don’t come down here as often as we (students) do,” he says. “And there’s also no (cellphone) service down here, so there ain’t nobody calling nobody. What happens if somebody gets shot? They ain’t watching.”

Unlike Samuel, Lota, a second-year student who also frequents the mezzanine lounge, has experienced a security incident on campus by the mezzanine-level washrooms.

“It was a little guy in a ski mask,” Lota says. “He was trying to make a bit of noise, trying to threaten some people. But it was all good. Nothing happened to anybody. Security escorted him out.”

Neither Samuel or Lota were aware of the UW SafeRide.

Sarah, a first-year student who frequents the dining area on the fourth floor of Centennial Hall, says she learned about and downloaded the UW Safe App after the incidents in November. She says her feeling of safety on campus was impacted for only a short time afterwards.

“As time went on, I just went back to my normal routine, because nothing else seemed to happen,” she says. “But at first it was a little nerve-wracking coming back on campus.”

Sarah says, in addition to the UW Safe App, she is aware of the location of the security office on the first floor of Centennial Hall, so she feels confident she could contact security if the need ever arose. But so far, it hasn’t.

“I’ve pretty much felt safe whenever I was on campus,” she says.

During the fall and winter terms, SafeWalk operates between 6 and 10 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays. Campus security members may also offer escorts beyond these posted hours. SafeRide runs every weekday during the fall and winter sessions until 10 p.m.

“We are committed to remaining an open campus community and an important contributor to the vibrancy of our city’s downtown,” Zimmerman says.

Published in Volume 77, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 19, 2023)

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