You’re walking home from one of your evening classes. It’s the fall, and the evenings grow shorter. It’s getting dark quickly and you start to feel uncomfortable walking alone. Who do you call? Ghostbusters? No, you call Walkhome.
Trent’s Walkhome program, established in 1991, provides students with a duo team escort to ensure all students across Trent’s campus arrive home safely. According to Walkhome coordinator Alyssa Heffernan, Walkhome has maintained its mandate “to provide a safe walk service for staff, students, be an additional “eyes and ears” for Trent Security (to see and be seen), and promote awareness of campus safety issues” for the 29 years it has been in operation.
The importance of this service is obvious. Numerous studies have shown that campus violence is an issue that affects many students, and disproportionately affects people in the LGBTQ+ community. Did you know;
- “More than one in five female students, 46.7 percent of LGBTQ+ students, and 6.9 percent of male students have been sexually assaulted in their lives” (Zane Schwarts, 2018: https:// www.macleans.ca/education/university/canadian-universities-are-failing-students-on sexual-assault/)
- “There is considerable evidence that undergraduates who engage in heavy drinking are more likely to be involved in assaults, motor vehicle crashes, and unplanned and unprotected sex” (White and Hingson, 2014, quoted in https://cdn.dal.ca/content/dam/dalhousie/pdf/ campuslife/studentservices/healthandwellness/PEPAH.pdf)
- “Female students are at greater risk of experiencing sexual assault when drinking heavily” (White and Hingson, 2014, quoted in https://cdn.dal.ca/content/dam/dalhousie/ pdf/campuslife/studentservices/healthandwellness/PEPAH.pdf)
- “An Ontario-based study of trans people found that 20 per cent had experienced physical or sexual assault due to their identity, and that 34 percent were subjected to verbal threats or harassment” (https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-queer identified-people-and-mental-health/)
With such large percentages of vulnerable groups affected, it’s understandable that when Walkhome announced that they would be temporarily shutting down their services on September 10, the decision received backlash, particularly from Trent’s Centre for Women and Trans People (CWTP). Sitting down with Zoe Easton, the coordinator for the CWTP, on September 14, Arthur co-editor Nick Taylor discussed the decision with Zoe and her feelings on Walkhome’s shut down.
One of the main points of conversation for Zoe was the wording of the message, which has caused some confusion. The original announcement, posted to Walkhome’s Facebook page on September 10, alluded to the pausing of the program as being a decision made by Trent University, rather than the program itself. When asked about this decision, Trent’s Director of Risk Management, Louise Fish, took responsibility for that decision. Trent’s Associate Vice President of Students, Nona Robinson, neither confirmed nor denied Louise as the main decider in the closure, stating only that “the initial communication posted to the website was not entirely accurate…On being made aware of that initial communication, messaging was promptly updated [on September 13] to reflect the fact that services remain available”. Upon further inquiry, Louise Fish revealed that the true cause of the closure was not in fact, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but a lack of volunteers (which may or may not have to do with the pandemic). This position is questionable, as it would appear that Walkhome’s volunteer recruitment hasn’t been a priority for some time.
Sparse Facebook posts, occasional Tweets, and an Instagram account that just became active after almost 4 years of inactivity, would suggest that Walkhome’s student engagement and recruiting effort is very low (at least on social media). Louise Fish also explained that there are recruitment efforts that take place on campus at Clubs and Groups day, as well as orientations at the beginning of the fall and winter semesters. As Walkhome does not operate during the summer, the logistics of this service are typically determined in the spring for the upcoming fall term. This year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Louise Fish revealed that Walkhome only had one returning volunteer for the 2020 fall semester. The program requires around 20 volunteers to operate, which increases to 30 at full capacity with teams of two for each walk.
So what happens when Walkhome is understaffed? Of course, there is Campus Security, who also operate within the Risk Management Department. As director Louise Fish explained, “security takes up the slack, either with an escort, a phone escort or some other solution”. Campus Security is a viable option for all students, who should have peace of mind knowing these teams are well prepared for the task. As Jason Salo, manager of Campus Security reassured, “Security guards are licensed and well trained to deal with persons experiencing trauma or distress, or who are intoxicated. Training includes non-violent crisis intervention, suicide prevention training, Indigenous understanding, sexual violence prevention and response and human rights training”. That being said, Campus Security has other duties to perform, and may not always be available. As Zoe Easton explained, “the reason that I’ve become involved in this is because students are now contacting us at the centre about their concerns walking home at night. Like, notably, one person contacted us the day before they put out their statement at Walkhome saying that she called Walkhome and there was no answer. Called Trent security and they couldn’t spare anybody and she called her don and there was no answer”.
This raises the question, who should have the responsibility of ensuring Walkhome has adequate volunteers? As Zoe suggested in her September 14 interview, seeing as Walkhome receives a levy of $1.19 per year per undergraduate student, perhaps creating paid positions would increase interest in Walkhome. However, in corresponding with Louise Fish and discussing Walkhome’s financial support, this doesn’t seem like a viable option; “This money does fund TWSP [Trent Work Study Program] student dispatcher positions that not only dispatch Security, Walkhome and TUEFRT [Trent University Emergency First Response Team], but also function as Walkhome team leaders, coordinating walks…The majority of the Walkhome budget, including the Coordinator’s salary and operating expenses, is funded by Trent University operating funds”. The onus should then be put on Walkhome to recruit volunteers to ensure there are enough teams to provide this service to all fellow students who require or request it.
Walkhome released an additional statement on their Facebook page, dated September 13, 2020, amending their earlier statement, stating that they would in fact be operating throughout the fall term, albeit at a reduced capacity. As mentioned above, the reason for this change in operation within a three day period, was simply a correction of previously, perhaps misinterpreted, information according to Nona Robinson. Nona Robinson revealed that since these announcements were made, a meeting was conducted on September 18 between herself, Louise Fish (director of Risk Management), Ann-Majella McKelvie (Trent Central Student Association president) and Zoe Easton (coordinator for the Centre for Women and Trans People) which yielded “a very engaging and productive discussion and meeting…related to Walkhome services and campus safety, which cleared up a number of concerns”. She did not elaborate any further.
In the two initial weeks since that meeting, Walkhome increased their social media presence, and appeared to be actively encouraging and recruiting new volunteers, with social media posts on various platforms on September 22, 28, and 29. There have been no posts since September 29. In correspondence with Louise Fish and Manager of Parking Services, Melissa Martin, on October 9, it was revealed that these efforts have been paying off. Walkhome currently has eight applications in progress, waiting on criminal record checks. However, at full capacity, Walkhome requires 30 volunteers, so plenty more are required.
Are you interested in applying to become a volunteer for Walkhome? If so, please complete the Walkhome Volunteer Application Form, which can be found on Walkhome’s Facebook page and website. For additional information, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or call Campus Security’s non-emergency line at 705-748-1328. To request a walk, you can call 705-748-1748 or text 705-931-0032. Anonymous reports can be filed on the Campus Security website.
Director of Risk Management Louise Fish would like to remind all students of their role in campus safety; “we depend on students to let us know if they have any safety or security concerns so please do not hesitate to call, email or contact Campus Security with questions or security concerns. We are here for you”.
It is imperative that we as a university remain vigilant and continue to look out for one another, especially during these trying times. Please remain safe out there.