Blue Phones & SafeWalk Programs on College Campuses
Bluelight security system technology and late-night walking programs, such as SafeWalk, are preventative measures to ensure students, specifically women and gender queer individuals, feel safe on campus (especially after dark).
Location: Vancouver, Canada
*For specificity reasons, this Wise Practice will focus on UBC’s programs; however, it is important to recognize that Bluelight posts and safe walking programs have been implemented all over Canada and beyond
Organization: A number of university campuses globally, including the University of British Columbia
About the Wise Practice
Bluelight security posts became widespread beginning in the 1980s and after the high-profile murder of Jeanne Clery at the University of Illinois in Chicago. These blue pillars are located at a number of key frequented spots across campus and are connected to phones that are automatically connected to Campus Security and can be used 24/7. There are four main purposes of the blue phones: reporting a witnessed crime in progress, seeking help when harassed, requiring medical assistance, and asking for directions.
SafeWalk is one specific program that falls under a larger safety walking initiative implemented on college campuses throughout the world. The University of British Columbia is one school that has a SafeWalk program, operating from 9 pm-2 am, seven days a week. Students can call the SafeWalk number or use the Blue phone and ask for SafeWalk and be met by one of nine walkers after dark who will walk with them or drive them to their desired location in a designated SafeWalk vehicle. The average wait time is approximately 15 minutes, as reported by UBC. After 2 am, students have the option of calling campus security to be accompanied. Five people are on duty every night, with two pairs of walkers and one dispatcher.
Goal 1: Prevent and eliminate all forms of violence and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (NUA 13c, 39; SDG 5.2; CEDAW article 6).
According to UBC’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey, SafeWalk helps about 300-600 people per month get to their location safely. Roughly 567 transports were made by the Campus Police in 2017 in addition to Safewalk, down from 805 in 2016. UBC Campus Security reported that the sexual assault rate for UBC in 2017 was less than in 2013. Considering over a million dollars was invested in blue light technology in 2017, increasing the number of blue lights on campus to 71 (4x the number of blue phones in 2014), the fact that sexual assault rates were lower is indeed promising.
Campus security coordinates the blue phone programs. UBC has a specific SafeWalk coordinator and trained volunteer walkers, which is similar to that of many other university campuses. Data is collected annually as to how many times the phones are used. UBC reported 61 calls in 2017, with 6 of them being classified as being made due to suspicious activity and 16% being emergency situations (ie. suspicious activity, medical assistance). According to one report, the number of calls made has been consistently declining since 2014. UBC Campus Security publishes annual reports reviewing the year’s events and activities.
Although Bluelight safety emergency phones have been effective, there is criticism that mobile apps may be more worth pursuing. However, when taking equity and accessibility into account, it is important to recognize not all students can afford technology, specifically mobile phones. Many phone batteries also die after a night out; blue light programs work regardless of access to mobile phones or battery drainage.
Resources and More Information
Published: May 31, 2021