Caution on campus

Shawntaye Hopkins

Andrea Carr doesn’t want to walk alone at night.

It’s those times when the Liberty freshman said she is “constantly looking over my shoulder, looking everywhere, really paranoid.”

Carr’s response shows how last semester’s attack and murder of Pellville freshman Melissa “Katie” Autry has given students, faculty and staff a new outlook on safety.

Western is still adjusting to changes brought about by the murder. And outlook isn’t the only thing that’s different.

Autry’s murder led to the creation of the Campus Safety Task Force, which released its recommendations over the summer.

President Gary Ransdell said all changes suggested by the task force will eventually be implemented.

Campus police Chief Robert Deane said his officers now realize that a major crime can happen at Western.

Now, officers have been forced to open their eyes more to what’s happening on campus.

They are also more visible.

Carr said she’s noticed.

“There’s a lot spread out, and that’s a good thing because you never know when you need them,” she said.

Officers visit each dorm nightly, Deane said. They check for locked doors and other technical safety aspects.

Officers talk with desk clerks about how things are going in the dorm, Deane said.

He said officers are encouraged to hang out in the dorms so students can learn their names and express concerns.

Deane said he wants students to understand that police will do anything possible to make them feel safe.

“I would hope that after that incident the students feel satisfied that we are here,” Deane said.

That won’t happen overnight, he said.

Some changes are yet to come.

There will be a 24-hour anonymous tip line set up soon, he said.

Deane said officers will in the near future post in various locations inside dorms to listen to student concerns.

Ransdell and Gene Tice, vice president for Student Affairs and campus services, have authorized campus police to hire another officer, Deane said.

No one has yet been hired.

Howard Bailey, dean of Student Life, said adjustments in dorm policy are the most noticeable changes on the Hill.

Since the beginning of the semester dorms have stayed locked 24 hours, he said.

John Bradley, president of the Student Government Association, said safety awareness in dorms has increased because dorm staff are more strictly enforcing their identification policy.

Dorm residents must show their student ID before entering their building.

The Campus Safety Task Force recommended that freshman live in single-sex dorms and that the university increase pay for dorm staff.

Bailey said he hopes students are cautious – but for the most part he isn’t sure if that has happened.

Bailey still sees students jogging on the outer perimeter of the Hill alone at night, he said.

Bradley said he is also concerned about students traveling on campus at night.

“People should feel free to do what they want, but care should be taken where one goes especially alone,” he said.

Bradley said students need to stay aware of their surroundings.

He said Bowling Green is a growing community. An increase in population usually means an increase in crime, Bradley said.

Greek organizations have also become more cautious about allowing people not affiliated with their organization into their parties, Bradley said.

On campus, people are taking safety more seriously, Tice said.

Tice said students are relaying their concerns and problems to the police and administration, based on the questions asked during the campus safety forum on Sept. 11.

Tice said he welcomes the feedback.

Ransdell said few freshmen expressed fear for their safety during MASTER Plan. Still, the issues were addressed immediately.

Even with the additional awareness, Ransdell said students have not gone overboard.

He said the low turnout at the forum shows him that students are not overly concerned to the point of being fearful.

“No one wants to live in an environment of uneasiness,” he said.

Liberty junior Josh Watson said he’s OK with safety on campus.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t fear for my personal safety.”

Owensboro senior Michelle Robinson said she talks on her cell phone when walking from Helm-Cravens Library to her car at midnight just in case something happened.

She doesn’t live in the dorms now, but she knows how she would react if she did.

“It would always be in the back of my mind,” Robinson said. “I’d probably take more precautions.”

Herald reporter Ashlee Clark contributed to this story.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]