Hillman pilots late-night campus escorts


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

The Walking Escort Pilot Program will walk students back to their dorms from Hillman Library during the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., Sunday through Thursday.

By Jessica Steinberg, For The Pitt News

Feeling unsafe on your late-night walk home from Hillman Library? The Walking Escort Pilot Program — probably — has you covered.

Amid student concerns about safety, the new program provides Allied Universal Security officers who can walk Pitt students back to their dorms from Hillman. During the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, the security officers sit by the doors of the Hillman Library ground floor, available to any student with a Pitt ID.

The Pilot Program was established on campus as a collaboration between the Student Government Board and the Department of Public Safety. Caroline Unger, SGB vice president and chief of cabinet, said that she saw a need for the program after an incident last semester.

“A female student was walking back to her apartment on Ruskin from the library and a car came up behind her and two men came out and started chasing her,”  Unger said. “So after that happened I kind of saw the need to try a new program that could provide direct assistance walking students home.”

Unger researched existing walking escort programs at other schools and then worked with the Department of Public Safety, Pitt’s Department of Transportation and the Pitt Police to create a similar program.

“It’s not to say that every time you’re in the library you’re going to want to use something like this, but it’s the fact that it’s there if you ever feel like you need it,” Unger said.

She also added that the program is only available at Hillman Library right now because it is a pilot program. Currently, the program is only offered five nights a week, but Unger said it could be expanded to seven nights if they felt there was student demand.

If we see success and we see a need for a more expansive program, maybe leaving from a different location, or going to different locations aside from on-campus residence halls, then that would definitely be something we would discuss and be open to doing,” Unger said.

For students living in residence halls on lower campus, officers can walk with a student all the way to their dorm. For students living on upper campus, escorts will walk students to a shuttle stop.

Jeremy Somerville, an Allied Universal walking escort, mentioned that the walking escorts will accompany students safely to any buildings within the permitted range, not just the residence halls.

“We have a certain area that we go,” Somerville said. “We don’t go too far, but far enough to where every student gets a way home, no matter what.”

However, students who live outside the program’s boundaries are out of luck. Sammi Ryan, a senior psychology major who lives off campus, said she frequently feels unsafe walking home from Hillman.

“I carry my keys in my hand. They aren’t very sharp but I still carry them,” Ryan said in an email. “It’s not advisable to to be alone at Hillman this late at night, but it’s the only way to get work done.”

Ryan said it would have been nice to have the walking escort program available when she lived in a campus residence hall.

Regarding options for students in off-campus housing who feel unsafe on their commutes home, Katie Pope, the Title IX Coordinator at Pitt, said students should take advantage of the shuttle services if possible.

There are two shuttle stops on either side of Bigelow Boulevard, less than a block away from Hillman Library. This includes the 10A upper campus shuttle that runs every day of the week until 3:45 a.m., as well as various shuttles that go off campus. However, some of the shuttles that go off campus don’t run on weekends or during the middle of the night.

In situations where people are actively facing violence or sexual misconduct, Pope said, students can bring those issues to various campus resources.

“If a person has a particular safety concern, they should talk to the police or they should come in and talk to our office or Student Affairs,” Pope said. “We can sometimes work with the police to help set up escorts and things like that for them.”

Integrated Security Commander Shawn Ellies, who oversees the program, said that very few students have actually utilized the walking escorts so far. Ellies said he believes participation is low right now because many students don’t use the library until the third week of classes. He added that other universities with similar initiatives have a large number of students using such programs and he expects similar results at Pitt.

Unger said they are still working on getting the word out to all students. Two slides about the initiative were added to the residence halls’ presentations during Welcome Week meetings, and she is looking into more ways to advertise the program.

“We had it posted on Student Affairs’ website,” Unger said. “We’ll be ordering business cards for it to have it available at various information desks across campus.”

Even if few students choose to take advantage of the program, Unger said that the program should still be available as a resource to students.

“If it makes one person feel safe when they’re walking home, the program did its job,” Unger said.