York security skimps on safety

Students in the Kinsmen Building say they feel excluded from security services

Jacqueline Perlin
Assistant News Editor

While York is taking a hard stance on safety, some students are still feeling left out in the cold.

Social work students walking to and from the Kinsmen Building at the edge of Keele campus are worried about the lack of safety measures available to them.

According to Kyle Murray, an executive for the Social Work Students Association (SWSA), students living in the building are vulnerable to violence since the building backs onto a forest.

Moreover, students no longer have access to a shuttle service that can transport them to and from the main campus area.

Murray explains the shuttle service was suspended two years ago, but that social work students are required to walk a long distance between classes.

“There’s been sexual violence on Chimneystack Road,” notes Murray, explaining the area also suffers from a lack of lighting even though the university has recently been placing extra lighting across campus as per a recommendation from the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) safety report released in June 2010.

York media relations however, explains the university suspended the shuttle service because of low ridership.

“The shuttle wasn’t used,” clarifies Wallace Pidgeon of York media. He says a goSAFE system was instated in the area the semester after the shuttle was suspended, but that service wasn’t used either.

Nevertheless, Cheyanne Ratnam, president of SWSA, explains the students requesting the shuttle service now are of an entirely new cohort.

“These are not the same students who were attending years ago, so [the university] can’t homogenize all students under one category based on the students who did not utilize those services,” says Ratnam, adding that most third and fourth-year social work students have over half of their courses in the Kinsmen Building and spend the majority of their time there.

Ratnam says this causes social work students to feel isolated; not only from campus, but from the community as well.

They are not only vulnerable to poor safety measures, she says, but do not have access to the same food choices available on the main campus.

Pidgeon notes that goSAFE is still available to social work students and should be used by students in the building. But Ratnam says when goSAFE is called, it takes the safety service over half an hour to reach the student.

Fatma Aidarus, former president of SWSA, says she even approached security services with a complaint that goSAFE would take up to 40 minutes to arrive and that the university failed to take action on the matter.

“They’d rather take the risk and walk to campus,” says Aidarus, adding that the majority of social work students are female.

The association has put together a petition of 127 signatures all demanding the university take a stronger approach to safety precautions in the area, which they planned on presenting to Nicole Arsenault, the manager of York transportation and student services at a meeting last Friday. The plan was circumvented when the meeting was cancelled last minute.

According to Murray, when Arsenault was informed Friday morning that Excalibur would be attending the meeting, she abruptly cancelled it and requested the attendance of both the head of security and a media relations spokesperson.

“It just kind of seems like [the administration] is ready to go to war,” says Murray. With winter quickly approaching, he hopes to see the issue resolved quickly before then.

Pidgeon, however, says that the meeting will not be rescheduled with Arsenault because the association was addressing the wrong individual.

“I find it interesting that this one individual would set up a meeting and say now there’s going to be a whole bunch of other people coming to the meeting, and then Excalibur and a petition’s going to be joined in,” says Pidgeon, calling it a “bizarre” situation.

“If the student would have gone to appropriate people and would have made the proper inquiries, there wouldn’t have been this rashness over the need to find out and banging on the wrong doors,” says Pidgeon, noting that Martin Singer, the dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Students held a “listening tour” last semester where he spoke with students about their concerns and that social work students did not voice these issues.

Ratnam says she attended the meeting. But when safety issues were brought up, she says there was minimal response from the university.

“I was in that meeting and we did bring up all these issues […] but [the administration] was being passive about it and we felt as if they were more concerned about our ideas about the actual programs, not about safety because they said that the safety audit was done already,” says Ratnam.

Ratnam also says the university should not accuse the association of knocking on the incorrect doors but should rather be directing them to the right ones, since the association is only approaching the people they feel are most logical to address, adding that she was even unaware that the meeting would not be rescheduled.

“If you will not be rescheduling a meeting, you should tell the recipient of the meeting,” says Ratnam.

Murray also says Arsenault had informed him the meeting would be rescheduled by her with the appropriate individuals, but that she failed to contact him with the information.

Nevertheless, Pidgeon adds that by spring 2012, all classes in the liberal arts faculties will be moved to the Ross Building.

While Ratnam acknowledges that the move will put social work students in a more central location, she raised the concern that the students will still be isolated to the Kinsmen Building for the winter semester. Putting safety measures along the path, she says, would be beneficial for all York students using buildings in the area.

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