Students fear safety of urban campus Campus

By Felicia Pacentrilli

Train stop. Corner store. Liquor depot. Restaurant. And now, the University of Calgary’s urban campus.

Located in the core of Calgary’s East Village, classes will commence at the downtown campus in less than two months, but limited information concerning site logistics, coupled with classes which don’t end until 10 p.m. have some students worried about their safety downtown.

Classes offered downtown so far include dance, fine arts, social work, nursing and environmental design. Select creative writing classes will also be hosted at the urban campus this fall on a trial basis. The classes run Mondays and Wednesdays from 7-10 p.m.

“Given media reports of rising crime on the LRT, I would say anyone traveling at that time of evening has cause to be concerned,” said Chris Wroblewski, a creative writing student. “When leaving the Grad Lounge after class at the U of C in the late evenings, it was always at the back of my mind watching the women head off to the LRT.”

The U of C Safewalk program, which sends a pair of volunteers to walk students to their car, the train or a bus stop, will not be in place at the urban campus.

“I’m concerned for the safety of students taking night classes at the urban campus without Safewalk or a suitable alternative,” said Jessie Bryant, president of the English Literature Students’ Society.

Although Bryant supports holding the creative writing classes and other classes at night to accommodate a wide variety of community members, she is worried security will become a problem.

Campus Security manager Lanny Fritz said security will assess the requirements of the urban campus when it is time to do so.

“We will continue to meet the requirements to keep all buildings and property safe and secure even though they will be located off main campus,” said Fritz. “Campus Security will continue to be ultimately responsible and accountable for facilitating a safe and secure learning environment for students, staff and visitors at all university sites.”

To assure staff and students are safe, Fritz noted Campus Security uses additional security resources as required for special functions and events, and will continue this practice at the Urban Campus.

In the past, this has included the Students’ Union Events Staff, Calgary Police Payduty Services, technology such as closed circuit TV, contract alarm companies, contract security companies and partnerships with other security agencies like the Calgary Health Region, said Fritz.

Students’ Union vice-president external Julie Labonte noted contracting out security is necessary in certain instances.

“For major events, or instances where we go beyond our capabilities, the U of C and the SU have–in the past–hired external security,” she said. “We frequently use the Calgary Police Service, and other private companies.”

Labonte also said this is inline with campus policy, and whether or not security is contracted out, the U of C is inevitably responsible for all security personnel.

Nicole Markotic, a creative writing professor at the U of C, feels the downtown campus can be safe if students take a little extra precaution.

“If students feel in danger or even uncomfortable, it might keep them from attending courses held at the downtown campus,” said Markotic. “I believe the plan is for students to arrange to walk to the LRT or to their cars in groups, and any student walking alone will be accompanied by the instructor.”

According to U of C VP external relations Roman Cooney, expanding classes is just what the university has in mind for the downtown campus.

“I’m confident that more programs will eventually move forward,” said Cooney. “The urban campus provides students the opportunity to learn in a different environment and have experiences they can’t have on the main campus. If we simply move classes downtown, then we will have failed. We want students to make an earlier connection to an environment where many of them will be working after university.”

According to the Calgary Police Service there were 13 recorded assaults in downtown’s East Village in 2005, as compared with one recorded assault at the U of C.

However, in terms of other crime, there were no stolen vehicles and only three thefts from vehicles in the East Village while there were 10 vehicle thefts and 10 thefts from vehicles at the U of C.

“Essentially walking anywhere dark after 10 p.m. can make a person uneasy,” said Markotic. “And this can happen at the U of C campus as well. Obviously, the easiest solution is to have many courses available downtown so that students never feel alone in that area.”

Students will need to understand the environment and make decisions,” said Cooney. “We will be working with the communities in the East Village and they will be our ears and eyes as well.”

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