The Safety of the 40 Acres

By Samantha Reichstein

Sitting in my journalism class Tuesday morning, it didn’t surprise me when my phone lit up from a UTPD email. I receive UTPD emails almost regularly, letting me know when items get stolen, if there are suspicious characters in the campus area or simply a notice about a certain event happening on campus that may spark controversy. However, my aimless motion of opening the message quickly turned into panic and shock as I processed the first line. “Urgent: UTPD investigating deceased person on campus.”

The communities of students and professors at the University of Texas have been dealing with—on almost every level—the homicide of a fellow longhorn in the Waller Creek area. The event is not only tragic but also horrific, and my prayers and thoughts go out to the multitudes of family and friends that knew the victim. But more than that, I believe this issue is more than one of empathy. The safety of students on UT’s campus needs to be addressed, and unfortunately, this is the platform that opened up that much-needed conversation.

If I told you I have never walked home alone at night from campus, I would be lying. It becomes difficult when you need a quiet library to study in, and before you know it hours have passed and the sun has gone down. With no friends or acquaintances in sight, you pack up your belongings and make the trek home to wherever that may be: West Campus, North Campus, or a bus stop that can take you to the Riverside area. My mom always tells me the same thing, “Do not walk home alone at night; it isn’t safe.” And of course I know it is not the best thing to do, but sometimes you are put in situations that don’t quite present a companion.

The tragedy of this past week is a rarity, as the Statesman stated this is the first on-campus homicide since the infamous shooting on the UT Tower in 1966. Watching interviews and reading quotes from the Austin Police Department though, I feel as if I am listening to a broken record that refuses to be fixed: “If alone, walk in a well-lit area; you can use the SURE walk program Monday-Thursday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.; if feeling unsafe scream for help.”

Yes, these are all smart options, but what happens if I am walking home from campus not during SURE walk times? Am I the only one to notice that there are not many “well-lit” sites on campus? And what’s the point of screaming if no one is in sight?

If the University of Texas can find funds to create a bridge that connects two buildings on Dean Keaton separated by one streetlight, they can figure out monetary solutions that would increase safety on our campus. Police should be on campus every night—from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.—outside popular and frequented buildings. Campus should install more blue-light stations that students can visibly see and run to if an emergency occurs. More opportunities should be created so that any student walking across the 40 acres at any time of the day knows they are protected in a place they call their home.

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