Embracing the awkward: SAFEwalk at Macalester
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Embracing the awkward: SAFEwalk at Macalester

SAFEwalkers [left to right] Alex Coppins ’15 and Bradley Cox ’16 sit at the SAFEwalk desk located on the top floor of the Campus Center. SAFEwalkers are available from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily to walk students to and from campus.
SAFEwalkers [left to right] Alex Coppins ’15 and Bradley Cox ’16 sit at the SAFEwalk desk located on the top floor of the Campus Center. SAFEwalkers are available from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily to walk students to and from campus.

If you’ve ever been on campus after dark, you’re probably aware of how eerie it can get at night. It’s the same case for the whole Mac-Groveland neighborhood: everything looks shadowy and, frankly, a little terrifying. Making a run to Dunn Bros or staying up late to study at the library is that much harder when you know you’ll have to trek back to your room in the dark. Mac is, of course, in an urban environment, and students have been in dangerous situations in the past.

To give students a sense of security when traveling on or around campus late at night, Macalester started the SAFEwalk program, which has been running for more than 12 years. It consists of groups of three to six students who will walk people within a one-mile radius from campus between the hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. every day. SAFEwalkers go out in pairs of one man and one woman and wear shirts or reflective vests to indicate who they are. All SAFEwalkers carry radios with a direct line to Campus Security. According to SAFEwalk supervisor Mark Bechtel, SAFEwalk “is not just about feeling safe… it’s the same reason you lock your door.” SAFEwalk wants students to have “friendly faces you can walk home with” while providing them the safety of traveling in groups.

Despite the fact that being SAFEwalked is probably much safer than walking alone, many students prefer not to use this resource. Keri Yatogo ’16 often works until midnight in the library, but has never used SAFEwalk. For her, “it’s too awkward” because “[she] doesn’t know who [she’s] calling.” Even when she wants to call them, she decides against it.

And SAFEwalk is well aware of the fact that students don’t feel comfortable calling them. Bechtel argues that since Macalester students take pride in being independent, they’re unwilling to admit to being scared or worried and call it. But Bechtel reiterates that it’s best for students to follow the SAFEwalk motto, “Embrace the Awkward.” For him, it’s always better to be on the safe side and make the call. Students, he said, “are afraid to ask the first time.”

But students who have used SAFEwalk before recognize the advantages. Rachel Tan ’17, a SAFEwalker, finds the job fun. “You get to make friends with the person you’re walking,” Tan said. She said that there are plenty of students who will call SAFEwalk on a regular basis and, over time, become good friends with their SAFEwalkers. To her, there’s nothing awkward about being SAFEwalked. Claire Norman ’17 and Georgia Gempler ’17 both feel that SAFEwalkers are friendly and fun and don’t feel inconvenienced by having to retrieve students.

Despite these encouragements, SAFEwalk does not appear to be a popular resource among Macalester students. Even after being informed of the advantages of SAFEwalk, Eric Kittilsby ’17 refuses to consider calling in. To him, Macalester’s campus doesn’t seem unsafe and, even if it were, he prefers “to walk on the edge.”

September 27, 2013

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