By: Sarah O’Connor, Staff Writer
This summer, USM’s Public Safety Department underwent significant changes. Following the campus safety audit was the resignation of the Director of Public Safety, Kevin Conger. While it is confirmed that the audit occurred, its contents are unknown to the public. When asked for the report, several USM administrative offices would not release it due to what Bob Stein, executive director of Public Affairs and Marketing at USM, said are “personnel issues.” Even considering the enigma of the audit, USM clearly makes safety a priority. Whether on the Gorham or Portland campus, in relationships between students or in the parking lot, the public safety department and health services have made it clear that the safety and happiness of the students, faculty and staff are the first things on their minds.
Every October, USM releases a Clery Report, as is common practice for other universities. It discloses campus crime statistics and security information. Considering the size of the school, USM has remarkably low violence and liquor law violations statistics, which contributes to creating a safe zone that students appreciate.
For some students, like freshmen Jordan Howards and Kyle Long, the USM campus has never raised a concern for them.
“I feel like it’s a safe campus,” Howards said. “I’ve never felt unsafe or threatened here.”
Other students, like freshman Mia Hendricks, do not always feel comfortable on campus. She is especially concerned about the lack of lighting on some walkways at the Gorham campus. When asked if she felt safe on campus, she answered, “Sometimes.”
“I don’t like the path to Woodward [from the bus stop]. It’s so dark,” Hendricks said. “I could be snatched by a car or a person hiding in the bushes. I don’t even know where [the police] are. I’ve never seen one.”
The situation is similar for commuter student Ally Duley, who feels unsafe in the parking garage on the Portland campus. She is concerned about “jumpers” coming out of the dim-lighted areas of the garage. However, she has never been threatened in any way. She feels like she could contact the police department, the public safety office, or even a faculty member about any problem she has, but by taking a self defense class provided by the university, she has taken matters into her own hands .
“Everyone is very friendly and ready to help in a moment’s notice,” Duley said. “I take a self defense course because both my friend and I have been harassed in the Portland area, and I want to feel like I can defend myself if the occasion calls for it. I want to feel powerful and in control even in a situation [where] I’m viewed as the victim. As a smaller woman, it is very easy to feel intimidated, but I don’t want to feel that way anymore.”
Juliana Nibletts, another commuter student, also feels safe on campus, and like Duley, she counts on the public safety department to protect her. The problem is that the safety locations, like emergency poles, are not clear to her. The emergency poles are spread around both campuses, along walkways and in front of several buildings, including Bailey Hall. The Public Safety office is located behind Upperclass Hall in Gorham, and is open to all at any time.
Whether these students feel safe on campus or not, they all have suggestions about how safety on campus can be improved. Common suggestions include more lights on walkways and in the parking garage. Nibletts suggested a flashing light outside of the parking garage in Portland for cars to see pedestrians. Duley recommended more emergency button stations, and Howards suggested a buddy system.
Jeff Ahlquist, a senior at USM and LRA in Hastings-Upton Hall, looked passed traffic and lighting and thought about the source for violence and general danger. He thinks there needs to be more education around alcohol.
“[There’s] not enough education on overconsumption of alcohol,” Ahlquist said. “It would be beneficial for residents to have more knowledge of it.”
In the Clery Report from 2015, almost all of the reports were liquor law violations. With alcohol comes issues that go far beyond drinking under the legal age. Alcohol causes students to make illogical decisions, and leads to drunk driving and over-consumption, as Ahlquist said, which can lead to death in extreme cases.
Safety measures can always be improved with the help of the Public Safety Department, faculty and friends. Health and Counseling Office Director Lisa Belanger encourages students to “Take the next step and let someone know.” A person can tell the Public Safety Department, an RA or a counselor about any concerns that may arise, and they can work together to fix these safety issues.
Belanger believes that students generally feel safe on campus, even though everyone is different and their experiences color their perception of what makes them feel safe. “We have enough resources and measures that students [should] feel safe,” she said.
Making a safer campus, whether it be in traffic, pathways and relationships, starts with the student. Talking with counselors and RAs are effective because concerns are brought forward and discussed. Contacting the Public Safety Department is always an option. The summer audit suggests that changes were made to improve safety measures. Groups like the Safety Campus Project, led by Sarah Holmes, work to prevent different types of safety issues like preventing and responding to sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. No matter what, there is an opportunity for students to feel safe through the many resources provided at USM.