blue light sign

Alia DeLong, a UF doctoral student and member of the National Women’s Liberation, works on a sign that reads “Protect Women, Blue Lights Now” at the NWL sign-making event on the evening of Sept. 10.  

“The reason the National Women’s Liberation is passionate about this is because we know that the culture associated with fraternities also happens to be associated with sexual assault,” DeLong said. “Knowing that women lack that resource is why we’re concerned.”

The squeak of the markers against the paper signaled progress was being made Tuesday night.

UF students, Santa Fe College students and local activists crouched over piles of neon poster board, pieces of cardboard and dozens of markers at the National Women’s Liberation office Downtown. The goal of the night was to come up with puns to write on more than 30 posters for next week’s protest against the lack of blue lights on UF’s Fraternity Row.

The small group of 15 expects to be joined by about 100 demonstrators to protest the lack of blue lights on Fraternity Row. The Gainesville chapter of NWL hosted the sign-making party to prepare for the protest next Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Members of the activist group laughed while singing, “Put on the blue light, put on the blue light,” to the tune of the Sting’s “Roxanne” to help get some ideas flowing. 

Some of the signs read, “Safety is not an inconvenience,” “I want to feel safe” and “blue lights matter.”

Alia Delong, a 30-year-old UF interdisciplinary ecology doctoral student, is a volunteer who helps direct Gainesville’s NWL chapter. The chapter partnered with UF students Emily Hyden, Mark Merwitzer, and UF Student Government senators Alfredo Ortiz, who is independent of a party, and Inspire Party Sen. William Zelin.

The plans to protest began at the end of the Spring 2019 to push UF to add Blue Light Emergency Phones to Fraternity Row, which is the only place on campus without them. Extra posters were also drawn for those that attend without a poster so they are not empty-handed.

Delong said her desire to help was ignited by NWL’s past community events that aimed to fight sexual assault.

“This has been a great way for like-minded people in the community who are passionate about this issue to build relationships with each other,” Delong said. 

Bree Bedell, a 21-year-old Santa Fe political science student, was one of the participants. She said she wanted to get involved after reading a 2017 article from The Tab, which reported that a quarter of sexual assaults at UF happen in on-campus fraternities. 

Even though Bedell has attended many Gators football games since she was young, she said she chooses to never walk on Fraternity Row alone because she feels unsafe.

“People should be able to get their education without fearing for their safety,” she said. 

The organizers asked members of the media to leave after the sign-making portion of the meeting to discuss plans for the protest. 

The protest, which focuses on preventing sexual assault and battery on fraternity row, will follow recent reports of sexual misconduct and rape on-campus. University Police said Tuesday that a female student reported she was raped in Jennings Hall. In late August, a former UF Resident Assistant was accused of trying to “finger” a female student against her will and sneaking into her room in Tolbert Hall while she was asleep. 

Zelin, a UF political science senior, that the students organizing the protest are focusing on blue lights while encouraging students to get politically involved on campus.

He was inspired to organize the protest after hearing about how an SG bill that would add blue lights to Fraternity Row was struck down. So far, the majority of the planning has been through the people who originally planned it, so Zelin said it was good for everyone to get together to collaborate and hang out for the first time.

“Anything that we can do to get people engaged and just have their voice heard is something that I really care about,” he said.