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Opinion: UCLA must increase student awareness of campus safety measures

A UCLA SafeRide van, one of UCLA’s measures to promote campus safety, is pictured. (Ethan Manafi/Daily Bruin staff)

By Zoraiz Irshad

April 25, 2023 8:33 p.m.

Whether it’s walking around campus or Westwood, Bruins deserve to feel safe.

On Feb. 5, three UCLA students were allegedly almost abducted in campus parking structures. Over a month later, on Mar. 24, a student was allegedly sexually assaulted right at the boundary of campus, at the intersection between Gayley Avenue and Strathmore Drive.

These senseless crimes have created an environment of fear on campus, and many students have been forced to change their routines in exchange for safety. Third-year neuroscience student Astha Sahoo, who knew one of the students who had almost been kidnapped through a mutual friend, said it was alarming hearing the details, and it definitely made her reevaluate some things.

“I think just hearing it firsthand, like the details from her, was especially scary,” Sahoo said. “I know I used to go to CHS (Center for Health Sciences) through the parking lot, and I know that’s where the kidnapping happened, so I (eventually) avoided that area and took the long way around.”

For many students, college is a second home. And no matter the time of day, they shouldn’t have to take a second glance over their shoulder.

Currently, UCLA offers a complimentary transportation service called UCLA SafeRide, through which students can book on-demand rides anytime between 7 p.m. to midnight from Monday to Thursday. SafeRide also runs every 30 to 55 minutes on Monday to Friday from 6:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., providing continuous service along the U5 BruinBus route.

However, many students don’t know how to access SafeRide or that it even exists.

“I feel like I’ve heard people say CSO (Community Service Officers) and SafeRide before, but I just don’t really know what they do, and most importantly, do not know how to use these resources,” said Diana Tran, a third-year cognitive science student. “I didn’t realize it was an option until a friend mentioned it recently.”

Along with the lack of awareness about accessing SafeRide, the wait times for rides themselves can often be long, and the current operating hours, which include limited hours on Friday and no weekend service, can be constraining.

“One night, I was trying to go to a friend’s apartment in the university apartments, and I was really mindful of the hours because I didn’t want to be there too late where I couldn’t get a ride back – because I didn’t want to walk alone,” said Grace Tomasek, a third-year psychobiology student.

UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado said in an emailed statement there are only two vans that operate for UCLA SafeRide. These vans are shared with the BruinAccess program that serves students with disabilities, but the times of these services don’t overlap.

For a campus of 31,600 undergraduate students, two vans are certainly not enough to properly meet the requests of students who just want a safe ride to their respective destinations.

Students’ unfamiliarity with safety measures extends beyond SafeRide to Community Service Officers escorts and Emergency Reporting System call boxes.

CSO escorts are community service officers who are available to walk with students from dusk until 1 a.m., free of charge, between campus buildings and local areas within Westwood between Wilshire Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard and Veteran Avenue to Hilgard Avenue.

According to Tomasek, the CSO escort contact phone number is mentioned to students at the beginning of the year, and signs, including the number, are posted in front of every dormitory door. However, they are very easy to overlook. Until recently, she said she was under the impression that CSO escorts just walked students from main campus to the Hill, not knowing that they covered a much larger area around campus extending farther into Westwood.

Emergency Reporting System telephones, placed at 390 different locations around campus, can immediately connect students to the UCLA Police Department.

Sahoo said that while she was aware of their existence, she hadn’t seen any on campus or heard too much about them. Advertising their locations would be beneficial for students in case of an emergency and help keep them from being overlooked.

It is essential to acknowledge that UCLA does communicate dangers on and near campus, which is required under federal law via the Clery Act and sent to the student body through the Crime Alert emails. Nevertheless, the lack of regular and conspicuous updates regarding on-campus and off-campus incidents is detrimental to student safety.

That was distinctly exemplified last year by the administration’s initial confusing and vague response downplaying the seriousness of the mass shooting threat posed by former lecturer Matthew Harris.

The university’s communication, or lack thereof, can be the stark difference between a life-or-death situation.

Bruins’ security should not be an afterthought but a priority. UCLA needs to ensure students are aware of and able to effectively access all of the campus’ safety programs.

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Zoraiz Irshad
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