Resident’s program seeks improved student safety

Seth Freedland

Jane Evans couldn’t believe the news.

This past fall the Evanston resident of 14 years read in The Daily and the Evanston Review about a string of violent attacks on students a few blocks from her house. Evans said she immediately thought of her two children, who are both away at college.

“The violence here has gotten progressively worse,” she said. “How would I want families around (my children’s) universities to handle it? I’d want them to say that if there’s a problem they could knock on our door.”

In that moment the “safe houses” campaign took flight.

Evans, who lives on the 800 block of Gaffield Avenue, sees her proposed program as open to any student emergency. For example, if a student needed help to push a snow-bound car, she said, that student could go to a house with a “safe house” sticker in the window for help.

However, in the spirit of quid pro quo, Evans freely admits to a “ulterior motive.” She said she hopes the goodwill offered by permanent residents will result in an increase in “civility” from student neighbors.

“What we’re experiencing are bands of students at a huge noise level early in the morning when they’re going home,” Evans said. “There’s no way they’re that loud when they go back to the dorm. But because they don’t know us, they feel it’s OK.

“A safe house seems to be a way to tell students we’re not anti-student,” Evans added. “We chose to live where we live. What’s important for me, I want students to feel safe — and if they’re not safe, they’re comfortable with going to their neighbors.”

Lucile Krasnow, special assistant for community relations at NU, said the city and the university could mutually benefit from Evans’ plan.

“One of the things that will always be helpful is for everyone to know each other,” Krasnow said. “When you put a face to a neighbor, you have more investment in your neighborhood.”

David Cohen, a board member of the condominium at 2033 Sherman Ave., said he would support putting the symbol in the front window.

“There’s a building to our north with some parties that go too late,” Cohen said. “I try to engage (the students) if I see some odd behavior. Once, a few guys were drinking beers in my driveway. … But I think (the safe house plan) could help relations.”

Evans said she thinks the only problem would be if too few families chose to take part.

“It would be wonderful if it was unanimous,” she said. “If students could walk down the street and see the symbol in (every) window.”

Off-campus Associated Student Government Sen. Meredith Kesner said Evans’ plan is “a good idea in theory” but isn’t sure if students would take advantage of it.

“If you live in a dorm next door to a student with a job in the early morning, just getting to know them can help in respecting them,” Kesner said. “We’ll see if that works in Evanston.”

Evans hopes NU will provide her with a map of the areas students would like to have safe houses. She said she expects to create a committee to walk through the neighborhoods finding homes willing to participate.

“Hopefully we can get this going for the spring when students will start regularly walking the streets again,” she said.

Even though Krasnow said she is amazed that “a resident would want to offer this service to students,” Evans said she believes her plan can snowball into a lasting change.

“My basic hope is that this little nugget of an idea can turn people around on they way they think of the other group,” she said.