Guided by blue lights

Students might not know it, but a flashing blue light could be the difference between safety and victimhood.

Throughout the USF campus, flashing blue lights allow distressed students to quickly find emergency call boxes and contact University Police, but some students don’t even know they exist.

In an effort to raise awareness and gain support for improvements to the Emergency Blue Light Phones, student group Necessary Improvements to Transform our Environment (NITE) conducted a guided walk to 10 of the emergency call boxes located around the core of the USF campus Wednesday night.

“We want students who have an emergency, who have a problem, to know where to go,” said Sarah Austin, president of NITE.

Recent events make it more necessary than ever to promote campus awareness and safety, Austin said. In September, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program reported that 19 incidents of violent crimes occurred at USF in 2005, placing USF among some of the most violent campuses in the nation. In January, an individual was shot and killed in a parking lot outside Magnolia Apartments.

“Safety at USF is incredibly important,” Austin said. “(Wednesday night) is the first step for us – education. But we want to be able to organize enough students to go to UP and get them to make some changes.”

About 30 students, most of them female, began walking to the first Emergency Blue Light Phone from MLK Plaza, where NITE organizers offered participants T-shirts and food.

However, the evening did not get off to an auspicious start.

The first light was out.

“As you can see, they aren’t particularly visible when they aren’t flashing,” said Carissa Caricato, the fundraising chair for NITE.

During the walk, participants discovered that two other lights were also out.

According to the 2006 USF Safety Guide, USF Physical Plant conducts routine inspections of Emergency Blue Light Phones and makes necessary repairs.

The guide also states that UP assists the Physical Plant by reporting potential safety and security hazards, as well as conducting campus lighting surveys. Students, faculty and staff should call the Physical Plant to report any safety or security hazards.

In addition to the lighting outages, Caricato also said NITE was concerned with the distance between the Emergency Blue Light Phones.

“Just look how far we had to walk to get to each of them,” Caricato said.

Caricato said organizers had hoped to test the call boxes by attempting to call UP from all of them, but NITE could not arrange this in advance with UP.

UP spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross could not be reached for comment.

NITE began as part of a class called Women and Communication, taught by Jeanine Minge, a graduate assistant in communications who acts as an adviser for the group. Minge requires that her students take part in the group to gain experience in activism.

NITE became an official student group during the summer. Nearly all of the participants were enrolled in Minge’s class, but participants hoped the group would grow in the coming months.

“Hopefully, in a few semesters we’ll have a lot more members and be able to make more of an impact on campus,” said Heather Stahl, a senior majoring in mass communications.

Sydney Lidstone, a sophomore majoring in elementary education who was not enrolled in Minge’s class, said safety at USF was a concern for her.

“I should be able to walk around and know that everything is fine,” she said. “And if something goes wrong, I should be able to easily find someplace safe.”

After completing the walk, organizers raffled off gift certificates to Pita Pit, Tijuana Flats Burrito Company and Jimmy John’s Subs.

Participants were asked for a $5 donation, which NITE plans to put toward a spring event called Take Back the Night, which NITE hopes will raise awareness about violence against women.

Call boxes are equipped with automatic location indicators and instructions for the hearing and speaking impaired.

A map showing the locations of all Emergency Blue Light Phones can be found in the Campus Safety Guide onthe UP Web site at