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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Staying safe on UF’s campus

Measures for students’ safety include blue light emergency phones and SNAP vehicles

An emergency blue light is seen near Broward Dining Facility. on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.
An emergency blue light is seen near Broward Dining Facility. on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.

Melanie Corrales doesn’t go grocery shopping without her pepper spray, her panic button and her defense key chain. One year ago, when a man lingered behind her as she tried to shop at the Publix next to campus, she wasn’t as prepared. 

Corrales was a new-to-campus freshman. She tried to get a pharmacist’s attention, but she didn’t pick up on Corrales’ cues. 

Corrales avoided the man only after bounding through the crosswalk to the other side of Southwest 13th Street.

The start of the academic year brings the excitement of independence for incoming UF students, but crime on campus and in surrounding areas — from sexual assault to hit-and-runs — demand preparedness.

A man who allegedly took videos of women on UF’s campus without their consent in December 2021 was booked into the Alachua County Jail Tuesday. Deontre Mason faces nine counts of video voyeurism charges, including an alleged recording of a woman showering in Murphree Hall. 

Blue light emergency phones scattered across campus allow students to quickly reach University Police in cases of immediate distress. In June 2020, UF announced new blue emergency lights in the area of Fraternity Row were operational in response to a student protest calling for their installation.    

Since 2015, victims reported 98 rapes at UF — nearly half happened in or near dorms and 16 happened at or near fraternities.

In 2019, Ian Milaski, a former UF resident assistant, was arrested and charged with battery and false imprisonment when he sexually assaulted a UF student and tried to pressure her into sleeping with him. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison for attempted sexual battery, burglary and kidnapping in 2021, according to court records.

Even the Reitz Union has been subject to sexual misconduct incidents. Last October, a man masturbated in front of a sophomore student as she was sitting in the union’s cafeteria. Despite a plan to increase the number of surveillance cameras in the union, the efforts are slow, and UF has not added cameras to the food court since the incident.    

The university does offer resources like the GatorSAFE app, which allows students to report and learn of crimes around campus. The app is a must-have for students, said University Police Department lieutenant Jake Pruitt. Its Personal Safety Toolbox includes location sharing and an alarm in cases of emergency.

The Rape Aggression Defense System self defense program can also teach women how to keep themselves safe, GPD spokesperson Graham Glover said. 

Students living in off-campus complexes should become familiar with the complex and know where the best lighting is located, Glover said. He also advised not walking alone after dark. 

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Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol vans can transport 15 people at a time and operate from 6:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. in the Fall and Spring semesters and from 8:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. in the Summer. 

Too few students know about transportation options that allow them to get around town in the new area, 19-year-old UF marketing junior Ethan Chen-Fung said.

They’re especially important in light of recent hit-and-run incidents and pedestrian fatalities that have killed UF students. 

Prateek Sharma was killed after being struck by a drunk driver on Southwest 34 Street this March. Maggie Paxton was killed in December 2020 in a hit-and-run on West University Avenue, and a month later, Sophia Lambert died after being hit by a car on the same road. Denise Griffiths died in January 2020 after being hit on East University Avenue while walking onto a crosswalk.      

Mikalee Williams, a 21-year-old business administration senior, said she would advise students to familiarize themselves with their phones’ built-in SOS features and avoid the University Avenue area after it gets dark.

Contact Omar at Follow him on Twitter @OAteyah.

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Omar Ateyah

Omar Ateyah is a third-year journalism student and the Alligator's Race and Equity reporter. He previously served as the Alligator's crime reporter and as a news assistant on the Metro Desk. He enjoys going on long, thoughtful walks. 

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