Is Safewalk less in demand?
The Student Outreach and Safewalk program is starving for volunteers
Anyone can be provided with a Safewalk escort: all they need to do is contact security, either in person or using one of the numerous red phones around campus. Unfortunately, this year there is a significant lack of volunteers for the Safewalk program.
What does this mean for students on campus? Actually, it is representative of the number of students who are using the service which, over the past few years, has been decreasing.
Jon Heath-Smith, the Student Outreach and Safewalk Coordinator, said that in the past few years security has seen a decline of people volunteering and using the service.
The reason for the drop in numbers is not that people are unaware of it: after all, Safewalk is discussed with residents and new students through orientation, he says.
“Students may already use safety skills,” Heath-Smith said.
If they are taking ownership of their own safety — by walking with friends, for example — they may not feel the need to use Safewalk, he said. The program is shared between the Students Association and security at Mount Royal University, and provides accompaniment to individuals at night who do not want to walk alone.
The service of having a MRU security guard walk with a student to their car or home is still available; the decline in numbers is seen more with student volunteers — which, a few years ago, was preferred by MRU students.
The coordinator mentioned that “in past years, there have been quite a few volunteers, and [Safewalk] was a […] regularly-used service. The student body expressed that they would like to see a peer model,” potentially because students feel safer using a peer, or that it seems easier to ask another student, rather than security, for the Safewalk service. However, a campus security guard escort is always available.
“Student volunteer teams will provide escorted walks from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday through Friday. Campus security will provide escorts at all other times.”
“They go through what we call anti-oppression training,” Heath-Smith said, referring to the fact that volunteers are trained to work with diverse groups of people.
To become a volunteer for Safewalk, you need to fill out an application from the Students’ Association and be available to work a three-hour shift once a week.
“Any credit student at MRU can apply for Safewalk. We do ask that there’s a police check done for all volunteers seeking to volunteer. That aspect might limit someone to volunteer for the program. Those are the only two limits — that they have to have a background check and have to be a credit student,” said Heath-Smith.
In regards to the safety of the volunteers, Heath-Smith said that volunteers “will walk up to one kilometer away from campus,” considering both volunteers and those being escorted need to feel safe. Additionally, the walks are done by at least two volunteers at a time, with each always being in contact with security.
Volunteers are not supposed to engage with any issues, but are there to comfort users of Safewalk and make them feel safe.
Heath-Smith commented that it is a service used by staff and faculty alike. Younger students, like those in the Conservatory, may ask for someone to wait with them until their bus arrives as well.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, you can contact the Student Outreach and Safewalk office in the Student’s Association, room Z303. Their information is also available at samru.ca, under Support Services. They will also be setting up some new posters with information that the program has to offer.