Students and employees of Columbia College Chicago can request an escort to take them between campus buildings and major public transportation stops near the campus through a new program launched this fall.
“This is a program we’ve created as an additional enhancement to offer even more greater safety for students that want to exercise that option,” Ronald Sodini, associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security, said. “Students can contact us, arrange for a pick up and we’ll be glad to take them to the designated locations around the campus.
New students like Lauren Briney, a junior interactive arts and media major, said the program not only gave her an extra sense of security but also helped her mom not worry so much. Briney is from Springfield in central Illinois.
“I know it really made my mom feel a lot better, and I know that the first week, every night where the two nights I would walk back alone, it was a little scary,” said Briney, who has two night classes a week that end at 9:20 p.m. “It was a pretty quick walk, and during those dark alleys with not a lot of people it was kind of scary. This is just a way better alternative.”
This free service is available from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week, during the fall and spring semesters.
“That’s the time where the burglaries and the thefts are at a higher peak, so we’re trying to eliminate that ― the fear of transporting to class and from class,” Campus Security supervisor Russell White said.
Overall, the Columbia campus area is generally a “very safe area” according to Sodini and the program is seen as an “additional enhancement”. But being in an urban area, there are times when a student can feel unsafe.
“There has been times of aggressive panhandling and things of that nature, so I’m sure that we have had in the past a few students who have felt unsafe navigating the area,” said security operations coordinator Rachelle Hadnott.
This program was suggested by students through the student advisory council where the program’s main objective is safety, not transportation.
“We are not planning, or equipped, to be a shuttle service from one building to another,” Sodini said. “We’re designed to provide a service to someone who thinks, ‘Ya know, maybe a smarter way for me to move, to get from point ‘A’ to ‘B’ tonight, I just feel like I’d wanna be with a security officer’. And so as long as you have patience and willingness to wait for us to get to you, we’ll be there for you.”
Students said the program is also useful on weekends.
“If I stay out late or if I’m going to someone else’s place to work on a project and it runs late and I have to walk back by myself,” said junior comedy writing and performance major Bethany Schmieder. “The fact that it’s seven days a week is nice, not just on school nights.
This program was created out of resources that were already on campus. The van that is being used is used by the Cinema Arts and Television department during the day, and security officers were reallocated for the evening during the Safety Escort Program times. While the officer is escorting a student, they are also indirectly patrolling the area.
“It was a perfect match since we have the program in the evening,” Sodini said. “Rather than invest dollars in unnecessary initial expense, we utilized the van in the evenings as a pilot.”
There is only one van being used at the moment that is GPS tracked with a security camera inside. As a backup, plans are in place to invest in a larger vehicle that would help meet a potential greater demand as the current van is higher in mileage.
Students are either walked or driven based on various factors including location of the student in relation to the location of officers.
“Depending upon where an officer is and where the student is going, it may be a little more feasible to walk that student,” Hadnott said. “We do have the resources and officers out there, so it would just be on a case by case basis how we would navigate.”
Students who have night classes, like sophomore cinema and television arts major Diego Beltran, said the program is beneficial for getting back to the dorm.
“I have a 6:30 p.m. to 9:20 p.m. class at the Media Production Center, which is one of the farthest buildings on campus,” Beltran said. “If I ever feel unsafe in an area, if I’m like really far, and I feel like walking back wouldn’t be the best option, I would totally use it.”
To use this service, students or staff member can call campus security at 312-369-SAFE or refer to the Campus Security section in the ColumbiaChi app. The student or staff member then states that they would like to use the security escort program. They are then asked for their name, oasis number, their current location and desired destination. If being driven, a blue van with Columbia’s campus security logo on the hood of the van will drive up, and the student or staff member will get into the van and show their ID.
“Our whole existence is designed to foster safety and security on the campus,” Sodini said. “My hope is that we continue to serve the college community, and help contribute to a safer experience for everyone here.”