Campus, Coronavirus, News

BU’s walking escort service to expand into community safety, engagement team

Boston University’s Scarlet Safewalk, formerly the Escort Security Service, will be repurposed this semester to encourage general safety on campus and to promote community engagement. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Scarlet Safewalk, a night-time student escort service, is being rebranded into a student-operated group geared toward community engagement and general safety, according to Students Activities Office Director John Battaglino.

The Scarlet Safewalk service initially employed students to be on call between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. as escorts for peers who felt unsafe walking alone. 

Battaglino said students in the new service, however, will no longer wait for a call to start work. Student workers will now frequent popular gathering places on BU’s campus.

“What we’re trying to do is get some folks out there, students, peers, to be visible in the community,” Battaglino said, “to really pat people on the back for engaging with one another. That creates a space, a community that watches out for one another.”

The yet-to-be-named street team will send pairs of walkers to areas where students congregate on campus, tasking them to pay attention to certain behaviors to help keep people safe, Battaglino said.

“They’re not narcs,” Battaglino said. “They’re not reporting stuff. They’re not policing.”

While he said the group can help promote COVID-19 guidelines, this is not their main purpose. Battaglino said he envisions members of the new street team handing out hockey tickets and BU “swag.”

“That’s what these folks will be armed with: engagement opportunities,” Battaglino said. “I do think it’s a longer-term strategy in how we have people visible in a community to help.”

Like Scarlet Safewalk, being a part of the new street team is a paid position through BU. Battaglino said students have already signed up for the new position.

Students can currently apply through StudentLink for a position tentatively named “SAO Street Team.” 

Student Government President Oliver Pour, a junior in the College of Communication, said Battaglino reached out to StuGov asking if it could help with rolling out the new team. 

StuGov’s role so far has been creating graphics and Google Forms for the program, which Pour said he expects to launch sometime within October.

Pour said the program is something that needs to be “spread wide,” with students working across campus to gauge which areas may need more safety resources.

“Whether that’s creating those social distancing circles on Nickerson Field, or creating more gaps on the [BU] Beach or the COM Lawn,” Pour said, “this is just to help us because nobody wants to be sent home.”

Pour said he thinks students’ reaction to the program should be a positive one. Like Battaglino, Pour said the street team will not be policing the BU community, but that its members will be there to keep campus safe and ensure community members adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.

“We need to take those steps,” Pour said. “We need to do that now. It needs to happen as soon as possible to ensure that as time goes on, BU continues to understand where on campus they need to focus on.” 

Sam Trottenberg, a sophomore in COM, has worked for Scarlet Safewalk for the past year and is currently the program’s sole student manager. However, due to the transformation of the original program into the new street team, Trottenberg is leaving the service. 

“My interest, and what I signed up to do, is really in walking people home and trying to make people feel safe at night,” Trottenberg said. “The kind of work that we’re shifting into doing, while it is something important, I mean, COVID-19 is a very serious thing, it’s not really something I want to do.” 

For Trottenberg, the new expansion presents more of an “enforcement role” than he said he is comfortable with. He said the street team is more COVID-19-focused.

“It’s more about enforcing the regulations we have, making sure that people are staying safe in that regard and educating people,” Trottenberg said. “I’m sure at some point, they’ll give us masks that we can hand out and pamphlets.” 

Alongside Trottenberg, about half of the 10-person team are also leaving before the expansion begins, he said.

Battaglino said he acknowledges the new role may no longer interest some of the original Safewalk members, and that he aims to help these students find new employment.

The street team will continue to offer the Safewalk escort service, Trottenberg said. Students can still call the number on the back of their Terrier ID to request student walkers, as was possible in the past.

Hours of operation, however, will now run from 9 p.m. to midnight, instead of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Trottenberg said prior to COVID-19, the service would average one or two walks a night during the warmer months, which he called “busy season.” This semester, he said the walkers are “lucky” if they get a couple of calls a week.

College of Engineering senior Tiffany Henry said she first heard about Scarlet Safewalk at her freshman year orientation. Since then she said she had neither heard about the program again nor known of anybody using it. 

While Henry said she has not been in the type of situation Scarlet Safewalk was created for, she has thought about what course of action she would take in a potentially precarious situation. 

“My first response would not be to call Scarlet Safewalk,” Henry said. “I’d probably use other resources such as the blue lights on campus.”

Blue light call boxes are emergency phones on campus that dial the BU Police Department with the push of a red button.

Trottenberg said Scarlet Safewalk’s biggest issue has always been getting the service’s name out there. With the new changes being made to the group, and the potential for a new social media presence, he said the new version of the service could gain more traction. 

“If we really go into more of an outreach type model, I think it could be more popular,” Trottenberg said. “Depending on how well they handle that, they could definitely see a higher volume of calls.”

CORRECTION: A typo in a previous version of the story stated the street team “will be policing” campus. The story has been updated to state it “will not be policing” campus.

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