As President John Hargrave walked across the East Central University campus late at night last summer, he wondered if women students felt safe after dark.
Hargrave became ECU's president on July 1 and lived in student housing for about two months. After working late at night, he walked the same sidewalks students would take to return to their residence halls.
Lauren Hensley (left), president of East Central University's Student Senate, talks about ensuring campus safety with ECU President John Hargrave (far right). Hargrave asked several campus representatives to meet to discuss whether students feel safe after dark. Also participating were Megan Hensley (second from left), chief justice of ECU's Honor Court; Darrel Armstrong, a student peer educator for the Campus Initiative to Reduce Crime Against Women (CIRCAW) grant program; Charlotte Johns, coordinator of the CIRCAW program; Alison Lee, secretary of the Student Senate; and ECU Police Chief Bert Miller.
"I had two daughters in college at the same time, at other universities, and they would tell me things that happened," Hargrave said. "We have a safe campus at ECU, but we need to be vigilant and make it safer, if necessary."
Hargrave wanted to learn as much as he could about the university during his first semester as president, often comparing today's campus to experiences he had as an ECU student in the late 1970s. He asked several female students, ECU's chief of police and representatives from the Campus Initiative to Reduce Crime Against Women (CIRCAW) to meet with him at night to talk about campus safety.
Lauren Hensley of Mounds is president of the Student Senate and Alison Lee of Ada is Student Senate secretary. Megan Hensley of Mounds is chief justice of ECU's Honor Court. The women said they feel safe, but do avoid certain areas if they are alone.
"I wouldn't go down this sidewalk by myself," Lauren Hensley told Hargrave. "It's too dark."
The women said they usually use the buddy system at night. Areas around buildings that are empty cause the most concern, they agreed.
"We've never had anyone jump out of the bushes" to assault anyone, said ECU Police Chief Burt Miller. Any problems usually come from dating relationships, he said.
Charlotte Johns, CIRCAW project coordinator, works with campus groups to educate students about developing safe and healthy relationships and avoiding potentially dangerous situations or behaviors.
"Most of our situations deal with stalking," Johns said. "Many times the alleged stalker doesn't realize his or her behavior is stalking. Once we educate the person, that usually takes care of the situation.
"Stalking is a pattern of repeated, uninvited attention, harassment or contact," she explained. "If it causes someone to be fearful and changes the person's daily activities, that's seriously stalking."
The three women students said they think most students know about CIRCAW and other safety measures on the campus.
One male and seven female students were selected this semester as the first CIRCAW peer educators. They completed 20 hours of training in the areas of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and bystander intervention. The students help develop educational programs, deliver presentations and promote nonviolent attitudes and behaviors on the ECU campus.
CIRCAW has been funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women since 2004. CIRCAW's overall goal is to effectively minimize the incidence of violent relational crime such as intimate partner violence and abuse, sexual assault and stalking.
CIRCAW serves all ECU students, faculty, and staff who are victims or survivors of these crimes with a high level of confidentiality, Johns said. CIRCAW takes no action unless the victim or survivor gives permission.
Part of the original grant funding was used several years ago to install additional lighting on the campus as well as purchase two emergency call boxes that were placed on the campus mall and near the petrified Callixylon near the Memorial Gateway at the end of Main Street.
Hargrave and the students tested of one of the call boxes, talking directly to Ada's Central Dispatch which dispatches every emergency service for Pontotoc County.
Four additional call boxes are being purchased through the grant and should arrive after the first of the year. They will benefit the public as well as the ECU community, Johns said.
The call boxes will be placed near parking areas at the northwest corner of the Sterling L. Williams Foundation and Alumni Center; at the southeast corner of Science Hall; the northeast corner of the Physical and Environmental Science Center and the southeast corner of East 12th and Center.
"When we reapply for continuation of the grant in early 2011, we will determine what capital improvements we need to focus on. What I'm hoping for is more lighting. That may be a possibility," Johns said.
Both she and Miller speak with students during freshman orientation each semester.
"I inform all beginning freshmen about CIRCAW," Johns said. "We discuss different situations of the crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, rape and stalking. I define what those are and educate them about the issues and definitions. If anyone is a victim or survivor, if they need assistance or information, they are welcome to come by my office and talk about it."
Miller said he tells students they can call the ECU Police Department at night if they feel uncomfortable walking alone. An ECU officer will accompany a student to his or her car or residence hall.
"Most of our continued success (in having a safe campus) comes from the cooperation of the faculty, staff and community, and definitely, our students," Miller said.
ECU's grounds department keeps trees and shrubs trimmed to eliminate hiding areas. Anyone who sees safety or maintenance issues, such as a loose handrail or something that is leaking, he said, can tell a professor, police officer or other employee and the information will be forwarded to the correct person. The
ECU Police Department also wants to know where lights have burned out on campus so they can be reported to ECU's physical plant and replaced.
"Dark areas are where people tend to hang out," Miller said. "We want to get those problems addressed so those people can do malicious things some other place."
Property crimes, such as breaking into cars to steal CDs and other items, are the most common campus problems, the police chief said.
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