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Sarah Blugis: Students can only keep themselves safe with more information from GW

Hatchet File Photo
Hatchet File Photo

Read an opposing viewpoint to this piece by opinions writer Elinoam Abramov here.

I recently added a small can of pepper spray to my keychain, and I find myself holding on to it during walks home alone in the dark.

I’ve been at GW for over two years, and until now, I’ve never really felt like that was necessary.

But last Sunday, the Washington Post reported that several sexual assaults had allegedly occurred in Northwest D.C., including Foggy Bottom, all within a few hours of each other. The University was quiet.

Then, last Monday, the Post reported that two female students had allegedly been assaulted on campus by the same man near the Foggy Bottom Metro, and we found out that UPD had responded to the incident. Thankfully, the suspect was caught. But again, we heard nothing from GW, and we still haven’t.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Sarah Blugis

The silence has been deafening.

The incidents didn’t warrant an immediate alert since they posed no ongoing threat – and it’s perfectly reasonable that the University wouldn’t want to alarm students unnecessarily. But regardless, it scares me that GW never said a word about it, even after the fact.

As students, we shouldn’t have to dig through UPD’s crime log every day to look for sexual assaults or robberies. Additionally, we shouldn’t have to rely on the Washington Post or even The Hatchet to tell us what’s happening. It’s the University’s job to inform us when serious crimes – the kinds of incidents that make us nervous to walk down a street alone – are reported on campus. And our school has let us down.

I walk past the Metro every day to get to my residence hall, often after late nights at The Hatchet townhouse or in the library. If I hadn’t heard about the violent attempted assaults that were reported, I wouldn’t have added that pepper spray to my keychain. I would likely still walk home at night with headphones on, too. But now that I know I have to travel through a dangerous area, I take precautions – and that’s no thanks to GW.

As a woman, I’m already expected to avoid the streets at night, carry pepper spray, cover my body and take self-defense classes. By refusing to tell me when and where sexual assaults have occurred, the University has added to that list the expectation that I search through the crime log every day.

The most frustrating part is that it wouldn’t be difficult to keep us informed: Simply sending out an email after an incident in a public space, like a robbery or sexual assault, would suffice.

We all know the University is more than capable of sending emails: We receive, on average, around four each weekday, with subjects ranging from email phishing scams to earthquake preparedness trainings. If you’re anything like me, you probably delete most of them.

Compared to emails regarding our safety, most of these InfoMails are unneeded – and yet, GW goes to the trouble of sending them.

GW’s top security official, Darrell Darnell, has said that his department has consciously sent fewer security alerts because students ignore them. But we ignore technology emails every day and GW continues to send them at high volumes. It’s unfathomable that the University won’t give students more information about campus crime because it is concerned we’ll just delete the emails. For every student who might delete them, many more, like me, would read them and take precautions.

Darnell has also argued that students might become numb to alerts if they see too many. But that could be avoided if GW made sure after-the-fact InfoMails about assaults were distinct from the urgent alerts we receive – the ones that come via text and give a description of the incident and suspect.

National campus safety advocate S. Daniel Carter told The Hatchet that apart from alerts, which need to be reserved for immediate threats, the University could send out daily crime newsletters. That’s exactly what GW needs.

When I asked Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski why the University didn’t have something like that in place, he told me student safety is GW’s “utmost concern,” adding, “we are continually engaged with student leaders and among members of the administration about the best ways to keep the community informed of events and incidents.”

If those aren’t just buzzwords and the University really is paying attention, then they should realize that daily or even weekly crime summaries would be invaluable. They would give students a sense of where assaults are likely to occur and how to prepare accordingly, just like I did. If students know they’re in a dangerous area, they can note the locations of blue lights, keep a cell phone accessible or text whereabouts to a roommate.

Yes, we do go to school in a city. Each and every one of us chose that for ourselves, likely with an understanding of the risks involved. But there are only so many precautions we can take if we don’t have information about our surroundings.

Sarah Blugis, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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