Students provide campus security service
By MAUREEN SMITHE
Assistant News Editor
It wasn't a tough choice for sophomore Chris Mahoney when he decided to be a Safe Walk student security escort.
"It would be nice to think that Notre Dame doesn't need Safe Walk because there isn't a threat of danger, but this isn't a perfect world, and while Notre Dame is extremely safe compared to other college campuses, there still exists the potential for something to happen," Mahoney said. "Parents want their children to be safe when they go away to school, and Safe Walk provides both parents and students with peace of mind."
Mahoney is one of more than a dozen student employees of Safe Walk, a nightly escort service offered to all Notre Dame students and employees. The service was established ten years ago in response to concerns voiced by female students about nighttime safety. Operating between the hours of 8:30 p.m. - 2:30 a.m., the service is integral to campus security, according to Safe Walk director and Notre Dame security officer Cappy Gagnon.
"This is a great way for students to help other students feel safe," he said.
Denis Lynch, a captain and eight-year veteran of the program said his job promotes a safe and secure campus.
"As a Safe Walker, our primary responsibility is to provide a safe, professional, friendly escort, from anywhere to anywhere on campus," Lynch said. "Essentially, we provide `safety in numbers' to allow any member of the Notre Dame community to feel more comfortable about walking around the campus at night. We try to make people feel like they are walking with friends, talking about whatever is on their minds, while they head from place to place around campus."
Gagnon and his student escorts recognize that Notre Dame, with its reputation as a safe campus, is not a likely place for a program like Safe Walk.
"The campus has little reported crime and we tend to be somewhat naive about that," Gagnon said.
Furthermore, it is that sense of security that has Safe Walk underutilized. Most nights, the service provides between five and ten escorts, climbing as high as 50 on a busy night, according to Gagnon.
"An unfortunate consequence of the safe perception of campus is that students are lulled into a false sense of security ... and take risks, most of the time without realizing it, that can result in harm to themselves or their property," said Lynch.
In an attempt to become more useful for students, Safe Walk has implemented tactics to "recruit walks as well as receive walks. If we see a woman walking by herself we may try to catch up with her," Gagnon said. "If there are events on campus, such as an SYR or a basketball game, we'll hang out in the vicinity to try to get people to walk with us."
Lynch cites other reasons for Safe Walk's low student usage.
"Because of a lack of knowledge, students often make a great deal of assumptions about Safe Walk," he said. "The men and woman in the program strive to do our job in a professional manner, yet some people still have these ridiculous ideas about us. We are not out to get students into trouble with [Notre Dame Security Police Department], just like we are not out there to find dates for the next dorm dance."
Mahoney said he finds the service essential.
"If only one student uses Safe Walk on a particular night, and they feel safe as a result, then it is a worthwhile service," he said. "The value of feeling safe is difficult to quantify, and therefore it's hard to look at the service objectively and ask if it's worthwhile."
Safe Walk coordinator Joanna Fava agrees.
"We do have many `regulars' — students that we pick up from their on-campus jobs and walk home at the same times several nights a week," she said. "For those students, the service is important. It makes them more comfortable. They feel safe. That makes my job worthwhile," she said.
Once called, a Safe Walk team can usually arrive anywhere on campus within five minutes, according to Lynch.
Safe Walk teams are made up of two students each, with two teams working every night. Each shift has a captain to supervise the other three workers. The captains' coordinator, Fava, works closely with Gagnon.
Fava's responsibilities include being on call to help teams each night, organizing meetings, responding to the needs and concerns of Safe Walk officers and captains and being available to answer questions.
"The other officers and captains are so great and fun to work with that it makes going to work and staying on-duty until 2:30 a.m. so much easier," Fava said.
All students are eligible to work as paid Safe Walk escorts, according to Gagnon, and the program is always looking for more underclass student workers.
All students are eligible to work as paid Safe Walk escorts, Gagnon said, and receive training from Campus Security personnel.
"I do an orientation with each new person, telling them Notre Dame security expectations," Gagnon said. "Then we usually have Jo [Fava] or Denis [Lynch] or one of the captains train during a shift — on the job training."
Lynch finds the job to be particularly rewarding.
"Think about it — we get paid to walk around campus, to meet and interact with new people and to make the campus a little safer," he said. "Speaking personally, I now have friends all over the country that I first met when either they were working on Safe Walk or called us for an escort. All in all, the job is a lot of fun."
All News Stories for Wednesday, April 26, 2000