Editor’s Note: This is part of a project to better connect the Daily Lobo with the University of New Mexico Communication and Journalism Department.
On Tuesday evening, University of New Mexico students pushed to improve campus safety through the annual Campus Safety Walk as part of UNM’s second annual Safety Week.
Throughout the walk, students, faculty and staff searched for campus safety issues, such as improper lighting and obstructions in walkways.
The walk was first held in 1994 and takes place in September, which is National Campus Safety Awareness Month.
“This is the centerpiece event of the Campus Safety Week,” said Rob Burford, Clery Act compliance officer for the University. The walk began with a welcome address from Kevin McCabe, chief of UNM Police Department.
“Most of our officers have more than 20 years of experience,” McCabe said. “Some of them have kids who are students here. We want to see you guys succeed.” UNM police officers, security personnel, staff and faculty all participated in the walk with students, breaking into groups to search different areas of campus. Each group was given a list of things to look out for, and a map was provided so areas in need of improvement could be marked down.
Deanna Lucero, a resident advisor at UNM, has attended three safety walks in her time at the University.
“It’s nice that we do (the Safety Walk) at night, because then we get to see the risks at night instead of just during the day, because campus is a completely different thing at night versus during the day,” Lucero said.
Safety Week, while including older traditions like the Safety Walk, does not only focus on student safety after dark — it also aims to provide other opportunities for students, faculty and staff to learn about security on campus. Other events during Safety Week include: a self-defense workshop, a rape culture informational talk and a UNMPD open house.
“Last year I started (Safety Week), we had a committee of two people; now it’s up to 10 to 12 people,” Burford said. “It’s gaining a lot of momentum. What we want to do is basically put on activities that might be timely in nature,” Burford said.
Safety Week is one of many initiatives started by UNM in accordance with a recent agreement with the Department of Justice.
In Oct. 2016, the DOJ reached an agreement with UNM after investigating the school in 2015 and finding that UNM was not complying with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.
The finding made UNM one of two universities investigated for its response to sexual assault.
Title IX protects against any discrimination based on sex. Some of what the DOJ agreement entails is providing comprehensive training to students, faculty and staff on sexual harassment and sexual assault. Students go through this training during New Student Orientation. Burford said Safety Week acts as a supplement to that initial training.
“Most of the students get told this during orientation, but yet they forget about it,” he said. “This a good way to help remind people and make people aware of what UNM has to offer safety wise.”
Some students that have participated in Safety Walk said it has helped prevent crime.
“I thought it was important that we learn about our safety on campus, make less incidents happen,” said UNM student Luke Nelson.
UNMPD officers also expressed their hope to promote safety.
“It’s being out here to show the rest of the community that we really do care. It’s really important to us that the kids here and the rest of the community feel safe,” said Lieutenant Larry Bitsoih, a UNMPD officer.
Commander James Madrid also spoke about student safety.
“We’re here for (students),” he said. “We want to make sure they’re safe and that they go home at night and that they’re not afraid to learn at this campus.”
The Campus Safety Walk concluded when participants reported their findings to Burford. The UNM Physical Plant Department will use the participants’ information to improve areas of campus in need of safety renovations.
Tom Hanlon is a UNM student enrolled in CJ375 and a guest reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TomHanlonNM.