BY KRISTIN BARYN
SC Contributing Writer
Campus safety concerns the entire East Stroudsburg University community. Opening an email about a sexual assault or robbery frightens and upsets students, faculty, and parents.
Lately, it seems as if emails detailing incidents of crimes have flooded campus inboxes. However, according to ESU campus Police Chief Robin Olson, there has not been an increase in campus crimes.
In fact, Olson, who is entering his eighth year at ESU, explained that though theft picks up from the end of September to mid November (probably as a result of the upcoming holidays) the number of incidents in general have not grown since he started.
If anything, when it comes to sexual assault, more students are reporting it, which Olson views as a positive thing.
To combat the sexual assault incidents on campus, ESU has begun utilizing their VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) grant to bring forward education and information by implementing new programs in the upcoming semesters.
The grant provides its core constituents the opportunity to mandate, meet, and plan events, and, after the grant expires, it will hopefully take on a life of its own, becoming a major focus and part of the campus community.
Campus police is working in conjunction with the Monroe county district attorney’s office to hold a mock rape trial at the end of February.
Olson encourages staff to get involved with the trial by either volunteering or offering extra credit to students who attend.
He also urges students to volunteer, as they want “as much student interaction as possible.” Contact the VOICE (Violence Options in the Campus Environment) center for information about volunteering.
The VOICE center is a new women’s center located at 411 Normal Street, which recently opened its doors.
As per their flier, the program is a partnership between ESU and Women’s Resources of Monroe County; it provides education, support, and resources for victim’s services.
The center encourages students to use their voices to speak out against violence of any kind while offering choices for services beyond what campus’s resources offer.
Olson stressed the importance of education when it comes to prevention. Last year, the school developed RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) system, which offers training and education for women to defend themselves.
“Communicate about sex,” said Olson. By educating people about sexual assault and prevention, a person might see signs of a potential assault. He urges students to take an active role in prevention for not only themselves but friends and strangers too. “Intervene,” Olson said, and he wants students not to forget the important life lessons they learned since grade school. Though college is a new environment with alcohol, drugs, and peer pressure, these rules, including being aware of your surroundings, traveling in pairs, and avoiding compromising and dangerous situations still apply.
A good example of students actively participating in crime prevention came from a junior named Marina, who now commutes after moving out of Laurel Hall.
She recounted how another student’s friend held her friend down and tried to kiss her on their way to Wawa one night, and how “the male RAs didn’t do anything about it” when the girls complained upon their return to the dorms. “They kept allowing him back in,” Marina stated. It was not until students rallied together, first by putting the perpetrator’s picture up in the halls with a message to not allow him in and finally reporting him to campus police.
Marina also expressed her fear and discomfort about walking at night after a late class and how she tries to avoid being on campus after dark, and so did another commuter student, twenty-three year old senior Billy, who majors in biology. He transferred from Moravian college two years prior, and was alarmed when three rapes and an armed robbery took place his first semester as an ESU student. He said, “I feel safe because the sun’s still up when I leave, but sometimes when I walk at night, I feel uneasy and unsafe; I wouldn’t live on campus.” Billy feels that the campus needs more emergency centers, the blue lights, and expressed his concern because he did not know where to locate them on campus.
Not all students share Marina and Billy’s fears. Nineteen-year-old sophomore, majoring in math education, Leanne said she never had an issue with safety on campus: “I never had a problem and never felt uncomfortable.”
Leanne lives in Hemlock Suites. She stated that people need to be smarter because a lot of incidents that occurred could have been avoided. Leanne uses the buddy system and carries pepper spray at all times; she even confessed to carrying it to breakfast in the morning and said that most females she knows keeps a bottle handy in case of an emergency. Her father, David, is “very confident with her living in the dorms and would feel uneasy if she lived off campus,” she said.
Likewise, members of the surrounding community view ESU as a safe school. Sheila, a waitress at Arlington Diner on 611 in Stroudsburg said, ESU “is no safer or worse off than anywhere else; I think it has a good reputation.”
She articulated how good it made her feel to frequent the campus community and see campus security and police patrolling constantly. Thirty-year-old customer service worker Stephanie also expressed her confidence in campus security, saying how quiet the area is considering the university is less than a mile from her employment. She said, “Whatever happens on campus, I don’t hear about it; campus police obviously takes care of it.” Twenty-three-year old Kris, a Verizon employee, also admitted that he “never felt in danger” on campus. However, he views ESU as a party school because “in my party days, that’s where I used to go,” he said.
Because college is a new environment, and alcohol and drugs factor in, students need to express caution and vigilance. It is extremely difficult to end crime indefinitely, especially when the environment changes every year with new students and staff. The university has to constantly reeducate and reinvent itself, and safety has to be what ESU is.
Speaking about the state of campus security, Olson had this to say to the community: “I think it’s important for the campus to embrace difficult things. People don’t want to see or pay attention and crime could happen to anyone. There is a network of support available that I want to see grow and become reality. What is happening on campus isn’t something being ignored, and though it is slow, we’re making progress.”
If you or anyone you know is a victim of a crime, sexual or otherwise, please call the VOICE center at (570) 422-3225 or (570) 421-4200, available 24 hours a day. The first step on the road to change is speaking out.
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