by Sydney Rhodes
On Monday, Sept. 24 at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, a man reportedly tried to kidnap a student at 11:30 p.m. in the parking lot of her student housing complex. She was walking away from her parked vehicle when she heard a speeding vehicle stop behind her. The driver got out and tugged the student by her jacket toward the SUV. The woman managed to fight back and flee from the suspect.
Many have commented on how nice and expensive the area in Fort Myers is and have concluded that an assaulter can be present anywhere. With UT being located centrally in the city of Tampa, it’s not always safe to stroll off-campus and students should be alert on campus as well, even though it may seem like the campus is in a nice, safe area. Campus safety provides many arrangements to the students who are present on campus.
“Besides the patrolling that our officers are already doing daily, we have some other features that ensure the safety of our student,” said Samuel Ponce, assistant director of campus safety. “We have over 700 cameras on campus, seven of the blue light security systems: systems on campus that include a button to notify officials if there is an emergency and a lot of them are in the parking garages, and the Tampa Police department (TPD) is present on campus during our busy hours as well.”
These police officers are around during buiser nights like Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 p.m. – 5 a.m., added Ponce. The campus safety headquarters also maintains a relationship with the police department and even when not asked, they are on-campus to confirm everything is going smoothly.
On the other hand, some students haven’t felt safe in certain situations and have had specific encounters on and off-campus. Campus safety cannot access issues off UT’s campus, these have to be taken up with the TPD.
Last year, sophomore marketing major, Will Miller, was held at knifepoint on West Kennedy Boulevard, a street that UT sits on, about a mile and a half away from campus around 11 p.m.
“I was walking to a friend’s house and I got kind of turned around so I approached a man I saw across the street and asked if he knew where the street I was looking for was,” said Miller. “He didn’t say a word and reached into his pocket and that’s when he pulled out his knife.”
West Kennedy has had a number of criminal offenses occur in the last year. Luckily, the street is typically filled with traveling cars and people but should be avoided during night hours.
“It made me nervous for a while afterwards,” Miller said. “I didn’t walk anywhere alone off campus at night for a little bit.”
Due to situations and suspicious activity on Kennedy Boulevard and another street that runs parallel to campus, Cass Street, students have reported that they can be nervous in these areas especially at residential halls that sit on these streets like Straz and Urso Hall.
“It can be nerve racking walking across West Kennedy to get to my dorm,” said Ben Cortez, Urso Hall resident and cybersecurity major. “The area around Plant Hall is already pretty quiet and dark at night, so going over there and crossing the street to my residence doesn’t always feel safe. Also, I rarely see campus safety in Urso like they are in the central campus dorms.”
Ponce has confirmed that campus safety officers aren’t required to officiate Urso Hall all night, although they do check the premises regularly and attend to any reports to ensure students are safe.
“All the doors in the dorm have an electronic locking system, where you need your student ID to get into the doors,” said Ponce. “We encourage all of the student’s to make sure they have their ID but on top of that, when they go into the dorms they should make sure they don’t let anyone else in and shut the door behind you.”
Campus safety advises students who don’t feel safe off-campus to stay on or near the campus, but if they do leave, students are encouraged to leave with a partner and check their surroundings at all times. They also would like students to keep campus safety phone number in their phones and to sign up for the UT Text Alerts, which allows campus safety to send mass text messages to students and faculty in case there is an issue or emergency they should be aware of.
“I think what happened to me could have been highly preventable if I was on-campus,” said Miller. “I would have been more likely to have someone near me or go somewhere I felt I could get away to. I also think people should travel with a least one other person if they’re walking long distances off campus at night.”