In-person classes begin at UT as improved safety efforts continue in West Campus

Friday presented a drizzly start to in-person classes at The University of Texas after the first couple weeks of the spring semester were spent remotely due to COVID-19

For freshmen Sarah Perez and Lia Rodriguez, that means they’ll be making the walk through West Campus more often. 

It’s an area that’s sparked concern among the UT community due to crime and lack of lighting.

"As a woman, it’s really scary to be walking alone by yourself, so we always walk together," said Rodriguez.

Exactly three years ago, on Jan. 31, 2019, the City of Austin issued a memorandum of recommendations to improve safety in the area. 

Since then, broken lights have been fixed and vegetation blocking lighting has been trimmed. According to the City, more than 400 lights have been upgraded to LED lights. APD has also increased patrols in the area, and the City’s Homeless Outreach Street Team regularly visits the area. 

In the most recent update last week, the City announced more than 500 additional lights will be replaced with LED lighting by the end of the year as part of the 're-lamping' process.

"I do think there should be more lighting just because that way you’re aware of who’s around you," said Perez. "Sometimes I’m a little scared just because there’s been a lot of police and a lot of incidents that we’ve been notified about."

Joell McNew, president of SafeHorns, has spearheaded efforts to improve safety since 2016. Her son was a classmate of UT Austin Freshman Haruka Weiser, a student that was sexually assaulted and murdered.

Since then, McNew has pushed for something called CPTED, or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. 

She highlighted protocols that are currently in place at the University of Southern California as an effective example. Those measures include HALO cameras and a team of ambassadors patrolling the area around campus known as "Yellow Jackets."

Improving lighting in West Campus is a start.

"I think the biggest fear of students has always been, ‘If I become a victim of crime, will someone see me?" said McNew. "It was very encouraging to have Austin Energy and the City come back with a memorandum that talks about the actual action and how that will go moving forward.

McNew said she will be meeting with Austin Energy next week to continue the conversation surrounding the implementation of safety improvements.

"So many students have begged for action, and we just hope that the students stick with us, that the students know that we’re fighting the good fight together," said McNew. "It may not have happened during their time as a Longhorn, but everything they did to support these efforts is going to make a change and leave a positive legacy for future Longhorns in our community."

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