CW: sexual assault and harassment

 

“Move between buildings, car parks and public transport points with friends or in a group, avoid dark areas and follow the major pedestrian paths. If alone, call our security escort service. Follow the walk safe pathways and report all suspicious activity”.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that you accidentally stumbled onto a personal security briefing for Foreign Affairs staff in the Baghdad Embassy, but far from it. This is the reassuring advice that UWA Security has provided on its website for anyone moving around our Crawley campus at night time and it’s no wonder that students don’t feel safe on campus after dark.

 

We’re reassured that all messages to Campus Security are routed through the Security Operations Centre, where UWA’s cross-campus network of integrated security systems is managed. They’re tucked away just off the Mounts Bay Underpass on the left, right next door to the International Pro-Vice Chancellor.  Exactly as the name on the tin would suggest, it’s from here that UWA Security tasks are dispatched and monitored, providing 24/7 coverage. Any time, any day, you need only to make the call and the golf buggy-cavalry is on the way to the rescue

 

Yet why was a student assaulted in broad daylight near Winthrop Hall, barely a two-minute hop down from Security’s technological bat-cave? Let’s not even talk about the hidden cameras in Reid Library or the brazen attempted theft of an ATM from Guild Village. The constant theft of bikes on campus deserves a mention, too.

 

As part of the Guild’s 2017 Safety, Security and Lighting on Campus Survey, students were asked “on a scale of 1-10 (1 being very unsafe, 10 being safe) how safe do you feel on any campus during the night?”.  Forty-eight per cent of respondents gave a rating of five or less, before going on to brand UWA Security’s response to incidents as “usually friendly” and professional but “notoriously slow”.

 

UWA Security does its best, but according to the students Pelican Magazine spoke with more recently for this article, it simply doesn’t feel like their best is enough.

 

One UWA student and resident of St Cats College had this to say,

 

“A guy at college asked if we thought it was safe to run by himself after 10 PM. All the girls at College said it wasn’t. I feel safer walking around Perth than I do on campus at night”.

 

While her friend and fellow College resident was less than glowing about UWA Security’s vaunted escort service, saying that she “Called a security guard to escort her back once and he complained, asking if it was going to be a regular thing”.

 

Yet another student aired concerns about accessing parking after dark, particularly on the many side streets surrounding the Business/Fairway side of campus, commenting that “Access to these areas at night involves going through poorly lit parts of campus, they don’t feel safe”.

 

It’s not unusual for students, particularly at night, to hang back and only travel in groups between Reid Library and Mounts Bay road, with one student saying they were harassed and intimidated by a group of young men while waiting at the Uni Hall bus stop.

You may have discovered a line on those maps dotted around our campus, marking the main path from Winthrop all the way to Business School. That’s the “walk safe route” and you might also notice that it doesn’t cover Guild Village or the bus shelters, with Music and ALVA left to fend for themselves as well.  You may also wonder why a Group of 8 uni’ can’t make it’s entire campus a “walk safe” zone. Why do we even need walk safe zones to begin with?

 

Here’s where it gets interesting.

 

This is a comparison of feedback from the previously mentioned 2017 survey, with the University’s walk safe pathway. That red line indicates sections of the Crawley Campus where students have reported either feeling unsafe, or that the lighting is inadequate.

comparison lighting maps.jpg

Next to it is a campus map, safe walks and all. Notice how the red line of bad juju and what the University claims to be a perfectly safe pathway align almost perfectly?  Concerning is putting it mildly.

In more recent years, a narrative of broken promises and election commitment from the Guilds has been spun. Yet in my view, a bunch of twenty-something year old students that are only in office for a year at a time should not be responsible for shouldering the burden here. The Vice Chancellor and her small army of bureaucrats all earn obnoxiously high salaries, they’re the ones with the power to enact lasting change. The Guild’s buck stops outside Oak Lawn.

We’re aware of a letter written thirty years ago, from the Women’s Department to UWA, lobbying for improved lighting on campus. The survey was in 2017 and I’m told that the Guild is finally going to receive some concrete figures from the University for a lighting upgrade in June.

Bre Shananhan, current Women’s Officer said this in a statement to Pelican:

“The Women’s Department has been actively campaigning for many years to improve lighting on campus. In recent history, in 2017 our our Safety, Security and Lighting on Campus Survey in 2017 found a significant proportion of students don’t feel safe on campus at night, with seventy per cent of students attributing this to a lack of lighting. The survey also revealed that the areas identified by students as having inadequate lighting corresponded with the walkways identified by the university as the WalkSafe Pathway.

The result of this survey have been communicated to the university throughout 2017 and 2018. We are now in our third year of presenting the same results, and we are yet to hear a steadfast commitment from Campus Management and the university administration to improving lighting on campus. We find this lack of action and urgency concerning. Students deserve better than being swept to the side while attention is devoted elsewhere. Improved lighting on campus is considerably overdue, and we urge the university to (finally) make a commitment at the Safer Community Working Group meeting next Thursday.*

In 1969, it took two dead students and a protest campaign lead by Sue Boyd before the University took student safety seriously and reluctantly forked out for an underpass. Fast forward to today and it’s worth asking: How many more students have to be harassed, assaulted, or made to feel unsafe before UWA acts this time?

 

Words by Patrick Roso

*Note: The findings of the survey were again presented to the Safer Communities Working Group in April. An update from Campus Management on campus security improvements is to be provided on Thursday July 6.