SafeWalk’ uses ROTC, Ju-jutsu to keep students safe during Reading Week

Michael Gsovski

This Reading Week, instead of waiting for SafeRide, students walking alone at night can call upon a select group of Navy midshipmen and martial artists to accompany them.

The Associated Student Government’s “SafeWalk” program will run from June 1 through June 4 and will pair students with two “escorts” to walk them to their destination. The program will cover an area from north of Clark Street to south of Lincoln Street and east of Ridge Avenue from midnight to 2 a.m.

Currently, 13 students from NU’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and the NU ParaCombatives Ju-jutsu club are slated to serve as unpaid volunteers for SafeWalk.

The NROTC ran a similar program in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Battalion Commander Luke Adams.

“We were actually paid by the university to escort students around campus, to positively demonstrate our unit to the students and keep students safe,” the Weinberg junior said. “After SafeRide, that ended.”

The SafeWalk program is intended to alleviate some of SafeRide’s shortcomings, said ASG External Relations Director Jilian Lopez. The program was first proposed after the external relations committee discovered similar operations at peer institutions, and a campus safety survey found the students responded well to the idea in Winter Quarter, the Weinberg junior said.

“SafeRide is completely overburdened … You’ll call and there’s a 45-minute wait,” Lopez said. “Hopefully this can alleviate the demand.”

The external relations committee members will take calls from students requesting an escort and coordinate the movements of the volunteers from the service’s two operating centers of Mudd Science and Engineering Library and University Library via walkie talkies, Lopez said.

Lopez said students will receive between one and two hours of training over the weekend from University Police to prepare them to deal with threatening situations.

The members of the Ju-jutsu club joining the initiative possess at least an additional year of training, said Alexander Agrons, the club’s treasurer. The group’s philosophy is to only resist an armed attacker if something more than money was at stake, he said.

“If somebody asks them to give you their wallet, you give it to them,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “If somebody draws a gun, and asks you to follow them into a dark alley or a car, you have to be proactive about that situation.”

Agrons added that hopefully, club members could help the student body become more aware of the threat of violence and prepare for it.

“The best thing is to tell them that you can’t be listening to music or your phone and looking at your feet but to be aware of your situation and be prepared for the likelihood of violence,” he said.

Adams said there wasn’t necessarily a broad difference in what the NROTC and most NU students could provide for SafeWalk – the midshipmen have “no formal training in hand-to-hand combat.”

“We’re more trained to be more on top of our duties and obligations,” Adams said. “It’s a lot more attractive than saying ‘Here’s a student who volunteered to help.'”

But Adams said the main advantage of the SafeWalk system is “strength in numbers.”

“An attacker is less likely to mug you if you can fight them off,” Adams said. “But he’s also less likely to mug you if there’s more than one of you there.”

After the pilot program ends June 4, the main task facing ASG external relations will be to analyze data and student feedback, Lopez said. Then, members can present a case to student affairs to lobby for a permanent program.

Despite volunteers’ efforts, Lopez said she is unsure of the effect that SafeWalk may ultimately have.

“I can’t say that it’s going to reduce the crime rate,” she said. “All we have control over is to give students the options to be safe on our campus.”

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