New solutions to enhance on-campus safety

On December 5, Grand Marshal Paul Ilori ’17 opened the Student Senate meeting with committee reports. Those reports included a discussion led by Student Government Communications Chair Korey Prendergast ’17, who is currently updating Senate profiles for the Spring 2017 semester. Senate profiles are posted on the Student Government website and are used by students to learn who their elected officials are as well as their contact information.

Facilities and Services Chair Austin Miller ’17 continued committee reports by stating that the committee is currently pursuing the expansion of water bottle filling stations throughout campus. Water bottle filling stations were originally installed in Spring 2016 and have since been met with positive reception from students.

Web Technologies Chair Sidney Kochman ’19 also delivered a report in which he discussed an investigation currently being done by the committee, exploring the possibility of offering free VPS services for students. This comes as a result of the phasing out of MyRPI, a legacy shared hosting service offered to students, which will be terminated at the end of this semester. The committee hopes that it can create a sustainable and secure replacement, with no expected release date for the service.

Senate continued with presentations regarding campus safety and student concerns about recent break-ins surrounding the RPI campus. Zining Liang ’19 gave the first presentation, discussing her ideas for a new campus-wide safety alert system and current issues with the ways that students are receiving information regarding recent crime. Liang specifically cited the limited use of the RPIAlert system, as well as Public Safety’s absence from social media. Student surveys, also released by Liang, show that students would prefer hearing about campus crime incidents via SMS or social media.

Students also only thought Troy was “somewhat safe” in response to the survey, with results averaging only 5.2 out of 10, with 10 being the safest and one being the least safe. Overall, students felt safe being in Troy, with an average response of over 6.0 on the same scale.

Concerns were also raised about the gap between public safety learning about a potential event and the time at which students are alerted through on-campus postering. In response to this data, Liang recommended increasing collaboration between students and administrators, calling for an increased use of social media platforms for communicating with students, and potentially implementing a new safety alert system. The new system could either be an expansion of the current RPIAlert system or a new application featuring a campus crime map.

Following Liang’s presentation, Director of Public Safety Jerry Matthews began a speech to the Senate by stating “we have to work as a team.” Matthews spoke about campus safety as a shared responsibility, inviting students to be proactive about campus events by reporting incidents to Public Safety and practicing good safety measures.

Matthews also acknowledged the divide between students, administrators, and individual departments at RPI, stating that Public Safety does not receive enough feedback and is sometimes unsure of how receptive students would be to change. This comes after many students have expressed concerns over the limited amount of communication that has occurred between Public Safety and the student body, as well as transparency within Public Safety.

In response, Matthews hopes to create more clear lines of communication between student leaders and on-campus organizations that could assist Public Safety in meeting student requests. Matthews also noted that “my office is open at any time,” and if students cannot reach him directly, they can request to set up a meeting to discuss their concerns and suggestions.

Following recent incidents at universities across the nation, including Ohio State University and Wayne State University, the director also reaffirmed Public Safety’s lines of communication with local, state, and federal officials to ensure the safety of students on Rensselaer’s campus. Safety measures are also currently in place to alert students in the case of emergency situations such as the campus-wide emergency alert system, sirens, and RPIAlert.

Matthews also discussed a new system in use by the Department of Public Safety called Social Sentinel, a social media intelligence solution meant to get alerts to threats shared on social media. Public Safety is currently using the tool to collect aggregate data via key phrases, hashtags, geofences, and public social media posts on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to help identify and mitigate threats relating to campus safety and security. This signals a shift in Public Safety enforcement from local safety patrols and enforcement to online surveillance and web crawling. Matthews identified this method, additionally, as a useful method for identifying potential threats to RPI security and reaffirmed that the data being assessed is already public on social media.

Concluding his speech to the Senate, Matthews stated that the greatest way to deter crime and for students to protect themselves is not to avoid certain areas, but instead construct a personal safety plan, travel in groups, and “feel out” areas they are traveling to. If at any point students feel uncomfortable with a certain area, they should not be pressured into traveling to such a location. In addition, the student population should be trustful of Public Safety and be open to interaction with Public Safety officials.

Matthews acknowledged that Public Safety interventions regarding noise complaints and other offenses around campus may lead students to affiliate Public Safety with “bad news,” but this should by no means impact students’ relationships with the organization, and it should overall “be a good experience.” Matthews reiterated that Public Safety’s goal is to keep students safe during their years at RPI, and that this time should be as seamless as possible.

Following Matthews’ presentation, the Senate voted on a resolution to respond to the Preserve the Student Union petition (see page 2 for more information). The resolution passed overwhelmingly, with a response of 21–0–0.

The Student Senate also voted on a resolution that would dissolve the Ad Hoc Committee which is currently tasked with working on a response to the Preserve the Student Union petition, the highest signature count student petition to date, with over 450 signatures from students, faculty, and alumni. The resolution failed 7–14–0, with members of the Senate noting that the committee’s findings were not limited to the Director of the Union position or the petition in general.

If you would like to offer your thoughts or suggestions, you can contact Facilities & Services Chair, Austin Miller ‘17 at