When the sun sets on the StFX campus, dark corners and shrubbery can turn a carefree stroll across the university into a worried, fast-paced march for many students.
The StFX UnSilence the Violence student team presented their findings from a three-month period of campus walkabouts Monday, April 8, revealing areas of concern for participants.
“Lighting was huge,” team member Haily MacDonald said, referencing the most common area of concern.
“There was not even a male-female difference between lights. Everybody noted that we have a huge lighting problem at StFX and most people noted in reasons why you feel unsafe that lighting, and too many dark areas, were big ones,” she added.
The UnSilence the Violence team, a 15-strong group of students funded by Status of Women Canada, one of 20 such university groups across Canada, conducted seven campus walkabouts with more than 40 participants from November through January.
The groups identified areas of concern ranging from accessibility for students with limited mobility to night-time problems, like the lack of lighting.
Specific worries include dark, secluded areas behind several residence buildings, a lack of crosswalks and sidewalks, particularly along Notre Dame Avenue and along the campus side of West Street, poorly placed security access and a concern with too many locked buildings at night.
“A lot of people didn’t realize how dark campus was until we walked around at night,” Elizabeth Gunsinger, another team member, said. “If you were here at 3 in the morning, how would you feel, as opposed to 8 at night? Also, I found it personally surprising that people avoided events at night because of physical safety problems.”
“The biggest stat for me that we were able to generate that was shocking was only four per cent of women feel safe alone on campus,” MacDonald said. “That number is huge. That means 96 per cent don’t feel safe alone. Obviously they do highlight safety options that they take on and incorporate within their lives to make it so they can go on campus, but it really shocked me.”
The three presenters, including fellow team member Sean MacLean, agreed that not only do the findings indicate that students are wary of the situation on campus, but that administration should be concerned as well.
“I’m hoping that once they have the concrete statistics, they will see that students really need this,” Gunsinger said.
“It’s not just some abstract idea, it’s actually something which could happen quite easily based on our suggestions. Even just a couple of more lights could mean a world of difference for a student’s whole experience at X.”
“It could even affect recruitment to StFX,” MacDonald added. “If you see things like this, you want to see that a school’s proactive in making change. I think StFX can do that, I’m hopeful, but I know advocating for change is hard.”
The group is now wrapping up a series of focus groups to determine where students, faculty and staff would like to see changes before presenting their findings to facilities management and arranging a meeting with administration.
While some of the changes can come from the Students’ Union, the team said that support will be needed from administration as well as Antigonish community members.
“It worked out really well. We’re really proud of the outcome and the interest. Seeing Students’ Union members here means a lot,” MacDonald said. “We’re hoping to put this out so the greater community knows about it.”