Suspicious man, drug paraphernalia hinder SCAPE volunteers

Marshall Cohen

A SCAPE service project that included more than 100 freshmen and peer advisors was cut short Sunday after police were called to resolve an incident at a Chicago site .

A peer adviser dialed 911 after a small group of freshmen who were picking up trash came across what that PA called a “drug den” in Humboldt Park, according to students present.

Weinberg freshman Joe White, a member of one of the eight groups of new students in the park Sunday afternoon, said he saw a stash of used drug paraphernalia.

“I saw a lot of empty malt liquor bottles, marijuana joints and also needles,” White said. “I didn’t see anyone shooting up, but I saw the used stuff.”

Chicago Police Officer Veejay Zala confirmed police responded to a “disturbance” in Humboldt Park between the hours of 2:30 and 4 p.m. However, he would not verify if that specific disturbance involved Northwestern volunteers.

Josh McKenzie, assistant director of orientation and parent programs, confirmed the incident occurred during the SCAPE outing and said the University took steps to ensure the safety of all students involved.

“We were notified about the situation, and we immediately took action and sent the buses to pick them up just in case,” McKenzie said. “The safety of our new students and our student leaders is our top priority.”

Serving Communities and Providing Engagement, or SCAPE, is a new element of Wildcat Welcome Week this year. More than 2,200 freshmen and new transfer students set out to participate in community service projects throughout Evanston and the greater Chicago area.

After discovering the drug paraphernalia, Communication freshman Ezra Wexler said a suspicious man followed him and his group.

“As soon as we walked away, a sketchy guy in a gray trench coat walked into the bush, then came towards us, absentmindedly walking around the park near where we were,” Wexler said.

SESP senior Taylor Hartstein, a member of the Wildcat Welcome board of directors, said the students involved in the incident were never actually at risk.

“There were some parks that were in not very good areas, and some groups left because there were vagrant individuals there,” Hartstein said. “But once the peer advisers saw that the park wasn’t really a great place to be, the group did leave within a short time of arriving and they went back to campus.”

NU partnered with environmental advocacy group Friends of the Parks for the Humboldt Park project as well as several other park cleanup projects throughout Chicago on Sunday.

Mary Eileen Sullivan, director of volunteers at Friends of the Parks, has worked with the organization for eight years and said she was still surprised by the disturbance.

“The project wasn’t supervised and couldn’t be supervised,” said Sullivan, because nobody works on Sundays. “But it sounds to me like they handled it the right way with immediate action.”

PA Juliette Pirpiris was overseeing a group of 12 new students at Humboldt Park at the time of the incident.

“I am from Chicago, so I know that there are some unfortunate situations that happen in the large metropolitan area, but I didn’t feel unsafe,” the McCormick sophomore said. “We were basically just trying to make sure that the freshmen didn’t feel unsafe, so we left.”

Some students who volunteered in Humboldt Park, like Weinberg freshman Christian Keeve, questioned the safety of the venue selection.

“I was basically calm, but some freshmen and an adviser felt unsafe,” Keeve said. “It’s the first year that the University is doing SCAPE, and the selection of the park itself was not great.”

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.

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