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Safety on Campus: College’s Last Priority?

At the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, female students at UIS are more painfully aware than ever about campus safety. For the past two weeks, student inboxes have received several warnings about stalking and sexual violence on campus. As the school year ends, the university needs to take immediate measures to make campus safer for women and minority students.

At the student union, a massive display called the Clothes-line Project sits on the landing between the first and second floors. This display is a visual representation of the student body’s experience with violence and elevating unheard stories. A different student or person makes each shirt; each color represents another event or the participant’s relationship with survivors. For example, teal means that you are a survivor of sexual assault, and red means that you are a victim of disability-based assault. Additionally, this past month, the UIS Women’s Center held the Take Back the Night March, a rally against sexual violence. These weren’t the only two campus events that advocated for education and resources for sexual violence survivors. Throughout the month of April, the university hosted plenty of awareness events. Despite this, instances of assault, violence, and harassment have been more prevalent.

This is not a new issue for UIS; in fact, these issues are ongoing, despite promises the university made as a result of the student protests in November. For example, instead of updating the blue police buttons, UIS uninstalled them. While the university updated some lighting fixtures, the east-campus apartments and the legacy campus areas remain dimly lit. No wonder there has been an increase in “suspicious behavior” when the university has not attempted to increase its safety measures.

The University of Illinois Springfield needs to create a culture of accountability on campus, and it needs to start by fulfilling and expanding on its promised safety measures. This process could begin by addressing its failure to fulfill its promised safety measures, especially regarding the emergency lightboxes. Even though getting rid of the boxes was cheaper than replacing them, they were still a good use of resources. And if it is an underutilized resource, a better system should be found to replace it.

On the UIS Campus Safety page, UIS says it takes several safety measures to prevent violence, starting with the goal of “eliminating the opportunity for crime and encouraging students and employees to be responsible for their safety.” While it is true that students need to create a solid network to help secure their safety, the university is responsible for trying to “eliminate” the opportunity for crime. If their current safety measures are inadequate (persistent stalkers and reports of violence), their elimination of options is insufficient. How can students expect to learn when they are focused on if they live in a safe community?

Finally, UIS needs to have a more accessible and present Title IX office. On their website, there is no information about staff (raising the question, is the UIS Title IX office even staffed?), and there are no clear resources for students facing sexual assault or harassment. It should not be the responsibility of the Women’s Center to provide resources for students facing these issues because sexual violence is not a gendered issue.

For the next academic year, UIS must live up to its promise of creating a safer environment. Students are engaging in resources to help educate on sexual assault and violence. UIS needs to hold up its end of the bargain.

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