Follow the Blue Light, Part 2

In recent days, President Mark Zupan had invited a security expert onto campus to prepare a report. The report, according to Zupan, was to figure out the logistics and funding of re-instating the blue light system on campus.

The system had been non-functional for an unknown period of time, as in 2016, Zupan recalls speaking with the Vice President at the time about an app they were developing, saying a handheld version of the blue lights would be more convenient for students in the long run.

“Alfred University offers ‘Guardian,’ which is powered by RAVE, to the AU community. This app is looked at as a mobile blue light,” said Chief Public Safety Officer Jessica Middaugh.

When the app is downloaded onto your smart phone, you gain access to push notifications from Public Safety, direct contact to both Public Safety and 911—which shares your location during the call, a safety timer to connect with friends and share your trip, as well as a map of the area and anonymous tips.

It should be noted that some smartphones aren’t compatible with Guardian, as older generations of iPhones or Androids are unable to download it. However, newer generations have access to the app on the App or Play Stores.

“We’ve got to raise our game and get the word out. These are things you need to remind pretty regularly,” said Zupan, expressing that it shouldn’t just be something briefly covered during Orientation Week.

Now, they’re working on spreading awareness of Guardian, with promotional posters and emails. All this alongside Middaugh stressing to students that the physical blue lights are currently not an option, and so that they should be aware of any other types of safety measures AU offers.

“I strongly support the re-institution of the blue lights and have been pushing for them to be brought back for a few years. I believe that they are important to the safety and security of campus. Even though Guardian is a great tool, there is always a chance that something may malfunction, so there should always be a backup plan. You also must consider that on occasions, people forget, lose, or break their phone. We owe it to our community to not exclude them from a safety option.”

Some students and faculty have another perspective, where they feel like investing in blue lights do more harm than good.

“I’m speaking from the perspective of a social psychologist, in an academic way. I think that the presence of permanent infrastructure meant to signal ‘safety precautions’ are to a certain extent ‘security theater,’ said Dr. Beth Johnson, unsure of whether the system would be an effective deterrent for most deviant actors. “From the perspective of schematic processing, things like blue lights all over campus actually communicate ‘you are in danger here’ more than ‘you are safe here.’”

While this idea surrounding the blue lights doing more harm than good is less common, there are still many that subscribe to the idea. The argument against the physical blue lights, however, should not be misconstrued as an argument against any type of blue light—or even any type of security or precautionary system for a college campus.

Strictly speaking from a social psychologist point of view, Johnson continued, saying, “If it was up to me, I would not invest more money in security theater. I’d hire to fill the vacant Wellness Coordinator position, a person who did a lot of programming around consent, promoting campus safety, personal wellness, and stress management. I would invest in community building activities and spaces, or friendship-building and bridge-building programming to make students feel less isolated, less lonely, less vulnerable, and less out-of-place. I don’t think blue lights will do any of that. I think we’re seeing fear, anger, division, and isolation increase on campus and we’re missing out on some incredibly rich experiences that college is supposed to provide.”

It’s uncommon for professors to be outside of the gossip that fills their classrooms, with Dr. Michele Lowry saying that she’s heard multiple students complain about the campus being poorly lit, and of students feeling unsafe, over the years.

On that subject, Dr. Johnson continued, “I know that students really like to share scary stories about ‘rape alley,’ and it genuinely freaks people out. However, to my knowledge of the actual facts of incidents on campus, a student’s risk of attack in that area of campus is both no greater than any other sidewalk on campus, and far less than at the parties or bars they go to for fun. But these rumors, innuendos, and legends do actually promote students feeling afraid, into seeing their fellow students as possible assailants, and subtly encourage them to stay in their rooms or stay isolated socially or not try to make friends with people dissimilar to them.”

President Zupan views Alfred University as a caring community, and Dr. Johnson agrees, with both expressing that, “the experience is everything.”

In a pandemic that has made it that much harder to connect, both understand that fears of repugnant behavior spread through the campus at incredible rates and want nothing more than for students to stay safe and happy.

“I would tell new students that even though the blue lights are currently down, that does not mean that the campus is unsafe. We are lucky to have a campus that looks out for each other which helps keep campus safe,” said Middaugh.

When asked about safety precautions and advice, surrounding the possibility of unsafe situations, Middaugh advised, “Try to walk with friends and be aware of [your] surroundings. Stay within ear and eye shot of buildings so that if you need to be heard, you will be.”

While Tamara Kenney, the Dean of Student Wellbeing, is who should be contacted with broad questions and concerns, using Guardian and/or calling Public Safety warrants a quicker response time. Zupan said that they’re planning on installing more security cameras on campus, as well.

In the meantime, Zupan encourages students that, “if you see something untoward, report it.”

By Sam Sage


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