Television camera crews and concerned students swarmed the Plaza of the Americas on Monday in support of heightened campus safety.
The event, titled “No Gator Walks Alone,” was organized in light of four incidents of assault and battery reported within ten days, the first on Aug. 30 after the canceled Gators season opener.
Trees were draped with colorful banners decorated with names of supporters, the hashtag #sticktogether and phrases like “No Gator Walks Alone.”
One of the event coordinators, Nikki Steinberger, a UF student personnel in higher education graduate student, organized the rally to include speakers and tips about how to stay safe on campus.
“One of my friends mentioned, ‘I can’t believe this happened in our community,’ and it really is a community,” said Steinberger, 24.
“That’s kind of sparked the idea of ‘we need to come together,’” she said.
Speakers at the event included Steinberger, UF Police Chief Linda Stump and Student Body President Cory Yeffet.
Stump praised the efforts of the four victims in her address to the crowd.
“These four individuals were very brave,” Stump said. “They fought. They made noise, and in certain instances, people were around to come to their aid.”
Stump urged students to walk in groups at night and download the university’s TapShield app, which contacts UPD at the click of a button.
UPD has also established a rumor control line, 352-294-2289.
During his message, Yeffet spoke about Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which started Monday and runs until Friday.
“We want to make them (students) aware of those resources and that they can utilize them should the issue arise or should they need to learn more about the issue,” Yeffet said.
Students in attendance expressed their concerns on the repeated assaults.
“I wanted to come out here to support this cause because I feel like we should all come together in solidarity to combat people who are out to victimize innocent students,” said Dashari Kearse, a 20-year-old UF linguistics sophomore.
On the “No Gator Walks Alone” Facebook page, students offered to accompany anyone walking home alone at night.
At the event, Maya Iyyani, a 21-year-old UF psychology senior, signed a banner with her friends in support of the cause.
“I think a short-term goal is being aware of your surroundings, using the buddy system, telling your friends where you are at all times, using SNAP (Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol), using the blue light system,” Iyyani said.
Stump and Steinberger both emphasized the influence the campus community can have.
“It’s not one person, one office, one department’s responsibility when something goes wrong,” Steinberger said. “It’s all of our responsibility.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 9/9/2014 under the headline "UF students come together in assault aftermath"]
UF students sign banners at the No Gator Walks Alone event on the Plaza of the Americas on Monday evening. No Gators Walks Alone is meant to raise awareness about sexual assault and encourage Gators to look out for one another