We asked 100 students: How safe do you feel at UMass?
‘As safe as one can feel’
This weekend’s heinous attacks in Paris and Beirut, ongoing violence in Syria, and tragedy and violence in article after national news article have cast a pall over the hearts and minds of many. Even students in the U.S. have confronted threats of racially-motivated violence at Yale and Mizzou. In the face of such heinous events, Amherst Massachusetts seems light-years away from horrors of this magnitude.
The students of UMass have been incredibly fortunate in this respect, and the majority of us stand in solidarity with the victims of these horrible instances.
With such a high volume of tragedy in the news these past months, questions have begun to formulate in the minds of those who have been so lucky to avoid it. While we sit in our dorms, thousands of miles away from the Bataclan Concert Hall in Paris or the terror in Lebanon, a sense of unrest is brewing in many of our hearts and minds.
Something we’ve had to ask ourselves maybe only once in our lifetimes becomes a central question: am I safe here?
We asked 100 UMass students a series of questions relating to on-campus safety. And this is how they responded.
Do you feel safe in most places on the UMass Amherst campus during normal class hours?
When asked this question, an overwhelming (and comforting) 98 percent of participants said yes.
One respondent even said: “Always. People are nice and friendly.”
Many commented on feeling safe during class hours due to the high volume of people going back and forth between classes, or because it’s usually light out.
One student replied: “I have never found an instance or reason to feel un-safe.”
Another responded: “Come at me.”
Do you feel safe from threats of foreign terrorism on the UMass Amherst campus?
In response to this question, 80 percent of participants said yes, 8 percent said no, and 10 percent chose sometimes.
One student, responding “sometimes”, had this to say: “I think to say yes would be naive. In relative terms, yes, I feel as safe as I can be, but you never know when or where an act of terror may take place so to feel invulnerable to any attack would be very stupid.”
Another individual, who answered “no”, commented that, “Terrorism has struck in Boston before, and after seeing how hugely this impacted the whole country, I feel as though they would not hesitate to strike again in Massachusetts, and the best place to do that would be a place where there are tons of people grouped together, such as a college.
“UMass Amherst is one of the colleges with the most people in one place.”
This is partially true. But while UMass Amherst is the second largest university in Massachusetts, its enrolment pales in comparison to places like Arizona State, which may be as many as 82,000.
One simply responded: “As safe as one can feel.”
Do you feel safe from mass shootings or domestic terrorism on campus?
This question saw a similar trend as 26 percent of people said sometimes, 14 percent said no, and another 60 percent said yes.
Where our large numbers made for a strong “yes” in the first question, here many respondents were wary of crowded passing times and unfamiliar faces. “You never know someones intentions, or what they can do,” read one comment.
One respondent even said “UMass hasn’t been clear on lockdown procedure.”
Which, come to think of it, is kind of true, though we do have an emergency alert siren which has been tested in the past.
Do you feel safe from personal attack or physical violence?
For this question, UMass got a little ballsy. One person commented “I do not feel safe around the belligerently drunken bros who wander the streets on weekends.” (We’re looking at you, Philips Street)
Another touted: “Obviously. I am a guy.” It is worth mentioning 100 percent of male respondents answered “yes” to this question, and almost 70 percent of all respondents answered “yes”, with those who answered “no” citing that walking in the dark made them nervous.
According to the UMPD annual security report, only 13 aggravated assaults took place in 2014 at UMass.
Do you feel safe in regards to rape and/or sexual assault?
This question garnered a similar gender divide. 100 percent of male respondents answered yes, citing their manhood as reason for their security, though 10 percent of sexual assault victims are reportedly male.
Of females who answered, two-thirds said either no or sometimes. One female respondent said after only three months at the university, one of her colleagues had been sexually assaulted. She also commented that the Blue Light systems on campus “don’t work.”
Many comments cited instances of sexual assault which had or almost had occurred in their time at UMass. In 2014, the UMPD reported 11 total instances of rape in Amherst, down from 21 in 2013 .
Have you feared for your safety at all in your time at UMass?
The final question on our survey seemed to sum it all up in a positive light, with 55 percent of respondents saying no, they have not. Those who had blamed their fears on darkness, or walking alone at night.
One respondent said: “Immediately following a highly publicized act of terrorism, mass shooting, rape, violence, etc”, they began to have feelings of vulnerability.
The Amherst area, although noted for wild parties and collegiate lawlessness, appears to assure students they are being protected to the best of anyones ability.
Despite the ever present comment that “anything can happen”, this fraction of UMass students appears to be relatively secure.
Though, in light of these statistics, some concerns are worth noting. How effective are the Blue Lights, really? Should there be more security on campus? Should there be less? What should students do in the event of a lockdown or attack? Does campus safety vary by demographics like race or gender?
Again, our hearts are with those affected by acts of violence this weekend. We hope your communities can heal, and we are looking to our leaders to offer support.