How to stay safe on campus: A guide to resources at UAA

When Megan Hoover walks from the dorms to classes on campus, she always makes sure to carry her pepper spray. For Hoover, a health sciences major living in East Hall, safety while walking back and forth from campuses is something she likes to take into her own hands.

“I carry pepper spray, and I keep it on my lanyard with my Wolfcard because I need my Wolfcard, so I never forget my pepper spray then, and occasionally I carry a flashlight that’s really heavy duty and can blind someone at night,” Hoover said. “I usually don’t carry that one around. I just mostly use it when I know I’m going to be out late or something and it even has sharp edges where the light is so I can hit someone in the head.”

Carrying pepper spray and a heavy duty flashlight helps Hoover feel safe on campus. Even though she’s never had a negative encounter on her commute, she still has had some light scares.

“The other day I was walking back to a friends house, it was like ten thirty, and this one man approached me and I got a little nervous because he was kind of sketchy looking but then he just asked me where the hospital was,” Hoover said. “But I had my pepper spray in my pocket, and I like had it in my hand ready to go. That was like the only situation that has happened to me. I definitely feel a lot safer knowing if someone like approaches me and I don’t feel safe, I can like spray them with pepper spray so they will go away.”

According to University Police Department Lieutenant Michael Beckner, there are a select few things students are permitted to carry on campus based on school policy.

Handheld stun guns are allowed on UAA's campus for students to protect themselves. Other items like pepper spray are also permitted. Guns are still illegal on campus property and in buildings. Photo credit: Jason Esbain

“You can carry mace, you’re allowed to carry mace, bear spray, things of that nature on your person,” Beckner said. “Whatever you carry, you’ve got to remember it can be taken from you and used against you, so think about that. No guns. Guns on campus are allowed to be left in your car, but they can’t be carried on the property or in any of the buildings. They have to be left in your car. That’s basically what you can carry.”

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Along with mace, students are allowed to carry a small pocket knife and, in some cases, handheld stun devices.

“They would not really be a Taser, they are self protection stun devices,” Beckner said. “So, they’re handheld, they’re not something that would shoot a projectile out. Pretty much, you can carry them anywhere on campus. You can have them in your purse, they’re not like what we carry where they actually shoot a projectile, it’s more of a touch thing.”

Beckner says UAA has relatively safe campus, but UPD offers a variety of services to enhance student safety on campus and especially for those who walk between campus and student housing.

“There are things on campus here to keep you safe,” Beckner said. “We provide escorts, so if you feel like you need, you know you’re leaving the library… if you feel unsafe you can call University Police and we’ll get you to your car, also if you’re going to housing, we can get you to housing.”

Along with providing a police escort to students who feel unsafe, UPD also responds to the blue light safety phones that are dispersed all around campus.

“The safety phones on campus are located throughout different areas on campus,” Beckner said. “You hit the little button and it immediately connects you to our dispatch and in turn the dispatcher will ask if there is something going on. If you can’t speak we’ll immediately send a car. Towards housing there’s a couple. When you hit it it will light a flash and mainly connects dispatch so we’re hearing, you don’t got to say my name is… You can just yell and we’ll hear you, and we have somebody coming and responding pretty quick.”

According to Beckner, UPD responds to these emergency phones in one to two minutes on average.

“We usually are there within one to two minutes and it could be quicker,” Beckner said. “It could be that you hit a blue light phone in housing and we have an officer in housing already patrolling, he could be there in a matter of seconds. We’re lucky here– we don’t have the call volume of say the Anchorage Police Department.”

One important resource that Beckner recommends all females on campus utilize is the Rape Aggression Defense class offered by UPD. According to the UPD page, RAD is a national program that teaches women how to make knowledgeable and educated decisions about personal defense.

Outside of human aggression, one of the biggest safety threats Beckner warns about is wildlife safety. Beckner says students should always be alert and aware of their surroundings just in case there is a bear or a moose on campus.

“Safety is not only person on person but here in Alaska, and if you’ve been on this campus long enough you know we have moose and things of that nature,” Beckner said. “I’ve watched students walk out of buildings with the police officer sitting right there and pretty much run into the moose because they are on there cell phone or got their earbuds in or just not paying attention. And a moose can be very deadly. We’ve actually had someone killed here in the early 90s by a moose right out front of Wells Fargo.”

For student uncertain of how to handle a surprise interaction with wildlife, Beckner advises they put something between them and they wildlife.

“If you see a moose, [don’t] run in the other direction but you’ve got to give it space, especially if it’s got a baby with it,” Beckner said. “They are very protective. Give them distance, put something between you and them. If you are walking in a parking lot walk one row over. If they have to come through cars to get you they are not going to go out of their way to get you, if you are easy to go after then they will. Don’t feed them because, plain and simple, once they become dependent on humans we have to dispatch them. The big thing on animals is you just want to stay away.”

Jacob Pennell, history major, lives MAC unit six and he takes several safety precautions when he walks from campus to the student housing.

“Never have more than one headphone in, to make sure I always hear what’s going on around me,” Pennell said. “I always keep my keys in my pocket just in case and some days depending on how far I intend to travel, I usually keep a knife on me too.”

Pennell said he’s never felt that unsafe at UAA but he likes to be prepared just in case something does happen.

“I feel like the possibility is there, but I am ex-military so I keep prepared,” Pennell said. “I feel relatively safe on UAA’s [campus]. There have been a couple of times where things got a little iffy but it’s one of those situations where, as long as I walk away, I’ll be fine. As awful as it sounds, because I am a white male, I generally don’t worry too much about it, but I like to be there just in case somebody else gets in trouble.”

For more information about animal safety on campus, the UPD page on UAA’s website recommends five steps on dealing with moose in the area. The UPD site also contains many resources for crime prevention on campus.