Written and Photographed by Emily Roden
On Flavet field last Tuesday, over 200 people showed up with signs, sunglasses, and megaphones to protest the absence of blue lights on Fraternity row, a short walk from Hume Hall, the residence hall for honors students at UF.
Blue lights, according to the 2018 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report by UFPD, are “non-dial, outdoor emergency telephones…located at strategic points throughout campus.” There are over 300 of these blue lights on UF’s campus, but as rally-attendee and NAACP-member Venecia Street said, “If you look on a map, there is a giant empty space on fraternity row that has residential buildings that aren’t being covered by blue lights.”
When a resolution for the addition of a new blue light in this area was brought to the UF Student Government Senate last April, it didn’t pass. It was once again considered under “special rules” on the Senate Floor but was brought to a tie, with the Senate president, Libby Shaw, casting the tie-breaking vote to fail the resolution. The two parties in Student Government – Inspire and Gator Party – are split on the issue, with the Inspire party supporting last Tuesday’s rally. While both sides want to provide safety for UF students, they desire different ways of doing so.
In his “Letter to the Editor of the Gator,” Student Government President Michael Murphy revealed student government’s decision by stating that “installing additional blue lights on campus would be a tremendous waste of student fees, as universities across the country are removing blue lights due to their lack of use and outdated technology.”
He said, “if the installation of a new blue light costs as much as the last blue light installed on campus, it will cost $22,000 of your student fees.” He remarked that “instead of utilizing scare tactics and doomsday scenarios, and instead of painting campus Greek life as rife with sexual assault, these students would be well served by advertising more effective campus safety programs such as the GATORSAFE app.”
The Gatorsafe app, according to the UFPD, has many safety functions, including one where students can “Trigger Mobile BlueLight to simultaneously send your location and call UFPD.”
Willow Oblin, a freshman at UF majoring in Public Relations and a new sorority member, posed the question: “What about when your phone dies?” When asked why she attended the rally, she showed me an article on her phone from the Tab that says that a “quarter of sexual assault at UF occurs on Fraternity Row” with data collected by the University police.
Another rally attendee, who requested to be anonymous, said, “Knowing several people who have been personally attacked near this area, I think this is an issue that applies to the whole campus. More people need to vote and be mobilized on this issue.” Jainey Coates, a freshman and English major in the Honors Program, hopes “that the demonstration today will convince our student government to better support women on campus.”
Mark Werwitzer, a sophomore majoring in Political Science and one of the coordinators for this event, is an unaffiliated advocate for blue lights on Fraternity Row. He said, “There is a misunderstanding in this issue – we are not going after frats or a particular party in SG, this is simply something that could save a life.”
Almost all of the five other coordinators – Emily Hyden, Samantha Gildea, Alfredo Ortiz, William Zelin (a member of UF Honors) and the Gainesville chapter of National Women’s Liberation –aren’t affiliated with a party in Student Government. These coordinators led the protestors on a walk through fraternity row, chanting things such as: “Safety over system,” “C’mon Gators, get up and go! We demand Blue Lights on Fraternity Row” and “Safety is our right, together we fight!”
Emily Hyden, a junior majoring in International studies, said that “today the protest was the first step in establishing this blue light on fraternity row. None of us had ever put on a protest before and to see so many students out here showing interest and passion in the issue is amazing, but also shocking, as this many people have a voice that is yet to be heard by student government or our administration.”
For more information on the next rally visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/452871768631873/?ti+icl
Download the GATORSAFE app: