A darkened street light leaves pathways in shadows. Overgrown bushes give a vibe more creepy than verdant. A stop sign lurks invisible because of overgrown vegetation.
An estimated 125 students canvassed campus and nearby neighborhoods on Wednesday night to highlight potential hazards and raise concerns to take an active role in enhancing campus safety and identifying areas for improvement. With the largest turnout in more than 20 years, organizers said they thought it reflected students’ care for one another and desire to ensure everyone’s experience is the best it possibly can be.
Mary Wallmark, director of Student Life and Leadership, said she was stunned by the turnout, especially as the University emerges from the pandemic. Some of the participants are experiencing campus for the first time this semester, after starting or transferring to Chico State during virtual learning.
“This was an introduction to them on where we are and how we come together as a community,” she said. “They are an important voice, and we all share a responsibility to work together to make this a safe place for everybody. Coming out of the pandemic, the more we use campus, the safer it is.”
Wallmark largely credits her AS Commissioner of Community Affairs Delaney Love for the event’s exceptional success. Campus administrators, student government leaders, staff and faculty members, and students were among those in attendance, dividing into groups of about six to stroll campus with a critical eye and log all they found.
“It was great to see students and faculty who care about the community together and wanting to see it improve,” said Love, who co-organized the walk with the AS Community Affairs Council and Facilities Management and Services. “Safety and where you live are essential to campus life. Your housing situation and safety are everything when you first come to college and a new town.”
Any identified safety concerns will be entered into a database and reviewed by University Police, the Public Safety Advisory Committee, Facilities Management and Services, and other relevant campus departments. Any safety issues noted within the City of Chico’s jurisdiction are passed along to city officials.
“They are already starting today with things that need to be fixed, whether lights or out or shrubs that need to be trimmed. On my walk, I noticed some of the emergency blue lights are not bright—they are actually brown. And it was hard to tell if it is an emergency light post because it blends right in like a tree. … The little things really add up,” Love said. “I think there are going to be a lot of changes on campus, so that will be great for the safety of our students at night.”
Megan Kurtz, director of Off-Campus Student Services, told those gathered that for more than a decade, participants of the Moonlight Safety Walk have helped identify areas of concern and created solutions for improvements. The Chico community has seen many changes in the past few years, which has created an opportunity to look at the city in new ways, she said.
“The neighborhoods in the one-mile radius around Chico State are where young people are learning what it means to be an engaged and aware citizen,” she said. “It’s important that we, as administrators and city leaders, walk that extra mile to make sure these young people have good examples of what that means, and by being here tonight, by going out into their neighborhoods, by walking that extra mile, we are showing them we care.”
Though the campus hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in crime, conversations about safety and college campuses go hand in hand, Wallmark said. Perception can be a big issue.
“There are parts of campus that students really view as a safe haven. First Street promenade area is a real marquee area, and by Kendall [Hall], it’s lit up like a Christmas tree. You could land a plane there,” she said. “Even during the pandemic, I would come to campus at night and see students using that as a place to be on campus.”
Yet, there are still problematic areas, largely on the edge of campus or where it merges into non-University, such as Children’s Playground or the railroad tracks, Wallmark said.
“It’s something we need to keep working on. We can’t throw up our hands, and we also need to educate our students that it’s not Mayberry. If you wouldn’t walk alone in the dark in your hometown, why would you do that here?” Wallmark said. “But it’s also giving them empowerment and responsibility. If they see something weird on campus, they should call campus police. We want them to have ownership of this place.”
Love looks forward to advocating for the improvements, including lobbying the City of Chico for better lighting in the south campus neighborhood. A sociology and French double-major, she plans on pursuing her master’s in higher education once she graduates this spring.
Supporting students in college has become her passion, and the Moonlight Safety Walk was one way to create tangible change, she said. She wants to ensure everyone in the community feels safe and included—and to be part of the change if they don’t.
“It helps living in a community where we are a college town and you see people out and about, and we look out for each other, generally speaking,” she said. “But everyone’s individual experiences are different in what they face, in terms of housing situation or racial and ethnic backgrounds. Everyone has different experiences when it comes to safety, and it’s important to acknowledge that as a community and really come together and look out for one another.”