When the once-bustling streets of College Hill fall silent at night, some students turn to Safewalk. On Sundays through Thursdays, between 9 p.m. and 2:15 a.m., pairs of students equipped with bright neon vests and walkie-talkies accompany their peers from one destination to another.
DPS officers and student supervisors, who oversee shifts, use a radio system to stay connected to Safewalkers as they take calls and circle campus to offer their walking services.
“Knowing that there is an organization of nice students who are willing to walk you and talk to you all around campus, … it gives strength in numbers and creates a communal investment in the ideals of safety,” said Safewalker Ben Zimmerman ’23.
Founded in 1988, the program is composed of roughly 34 undergraduate students who are selected through an application and interview process. Once hired, Safewalkers go through a training session to decide pairings and review protocols. While they may not be rigorously trained in defense, these walkers aim to provide a sense of security by emphasizing that students can protect each other after dark.
Coordinator Veronica Junco ’21 further stressed the significance of building a community in which students can take safety into their own hands. “It can be uncomfortable to reach out to officers or adults for safety, but we’re just students,” Junco said. “And it’s really important for students to feel like they can reach out to one another for safety.”
Although Safewalkers’ primary purpose is to increase safety on campus, they also aim to foster a sense of community between students.
“I like the conversations I have with people,” said Safewalker James Huang ’20. “I like getting to know my (Safewalking) partner and different people.”
Junco added that Safewalk can also function as a “support system.”
“We’ve had students tell us that it’s nice to have someone walk them after spending all day studying alone,” Junco said. “Not a lot of people realize, but it can be nice to vent to a complete stranger.”
Anvita Bhagavathula ’23, who frequently uses Safewalk, recalled a time she used Safewalk after her Astrophysics lab. “It was raining, and the Safewalkers were dancing to ‘Singing in the Rain,’” she said. “I had had a rough day, and seeing that cheered me up and made me feel safer.”
Safewalk is not the only resource on campus that aims to build a safe environment on and around campus. For example, the Brown shuttle and 150 outdoor emergency phones referred to as “blue lights” are also available to students.
The Herald’s Fall 2019 poll found that almost 40 percent of undergraduates feel unsafe outside in areas surrounding campus after dark.
Safewalk is currently discussing the possibility of adding Friday and Saturday night shifts to the schedule. Though an extension of shifts would be ideal, Junco and Safewalk Supervisor Zachary Baytosh ’21 said there would be limitations in implementing the change.
“It not only requires fulfilling financial needs, but also poses the issue of finding walkers that are willing to work on Fridays and Saturdays,” Junco explained.
Baytosh added that “there are concerns about restructuring shift assignments and training sessions. Fridays and Saturdays would be considered ‘higher risk’ nights due to alcohol and drug usage, so more intense training would be required for those shifts.”
“It requires a lot of pieces coming together, but we’re generally reviewing the possibilities with positivity,” Baytosh said.