Students living in off-campus housing are welcoming the increased focus on safety in their neighborhoods that a new program, Beyond the Diag, is trying to instill.
Supported by the Division of Student Affairs and run by the Michigan Student Assembly’s Student Safety Commission, the program aims to create a network of 11 off-campus neighborhoods on Central Campus and a stronger sense of community and safety within these neighborhoods. While many students have been receptive to the program and appreciate the increased emphasis on off-campus safety, some think the program’s community building goals aren’t necessary.
Beyond the Diag is focusing on two areas this semester: the East Packard neighborhood, which extends from Packard Street to South Forest Street south of Oakland Avenue, and the Oxbridge neighborhood, the area around the Oxford Housing complex.
Laura Blake Jones, dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs, said the program strives to help students transition out of residence halls and into off-campus housing. She said she feels it is necessary for off-campus residents to know one another so they can better address safety concerns in their neighborhoods.
LSA junior Stephanie Hamel, vice chair of the Student Safety Commission, said she has noticed increased attention to safety among students in light of the assaults that occurred near campus this summer.
“I think that especially in the neighborhoods that we chose, there are areas (where) students are really on guard right now and really concerned about their personal safety because of the events that happened over the summer and last year,” Hamel said.
Some students living in these areas echoed Hamel’s sentiment and said they have been more careful about their well-being since the assaults and are looking forward to programs that aim to increase safety.
LSA junior Samantha Primack, who lives on East University and Greenwood Avenue, said she and her housemates have been more conscientious about safety since moving in this semester and hearing about the sexual assaults that occurred off-campus.
“One of the big things that we’ve been really careful about is never walking by ourselves anywhere, or if we are, having someone meet us halfway has been a big deal for us,” Primack said.
LSA junior Deven Kulkarni, who lives on Vaughn Street in the East Packard neighborhood, said he feels relatively safe on his street but would feel differently if he were living just one street away.
“If I were living on Greenwood though, that would probably be a different story, which is weird because it’s only a street over,” Kulkarni said. “But they’ve seen their fair share of crime alerts.”
Primack said she is looking forward to the increased resources Beyond the Diag is providing for off-campus students.
“I think it’s good that the University is putting a different priority on giving information and keeping people who are not necessarily on campus safe,” she said.
Primack also said he’s noticed an increase in police presence in his neighborhood.
Primack’s house was visited by Jones, Hamel, Student Safety Commission Chair Josh Buoy, Department of Public Safety Chief Greg O’Dell and Ann Arbor Police Department Chief Barnett Jones in the officials’ “Knock and Talk” event last Friday. During the visit, the group went door-to-door in the two target neighborhoods of the Beyond the Diag initiative to increase safety awareness.
Jones said this was the most receptive she had seen students in her work at the University.
“In my years of doing similar kind of work on this campus and other campuses, it was the most positive response I’ve ever seen from students,” Jones said.
During the event, the group passed out the telephone number for Safe Ride, a new system created by the program, which provides streamlined access to the various late-night transportation services provided by the University and the city under a single telephone number. Primack said she and her housemates posted the number on their refrigerator for future use.
In the next few weeks, the program intends to hire neighborhood ambassadors for the Oxbridge and East Packard neighborhoods, Hamel said. Neighborhood ambassadors — comparable to resident advisers in residence halls — will be students living in off-campus neighborhoods and will help plan events like barbeques and movie screenings as well as contribute content to monthly newsletters that will be distributed to residents.
“Our hope is that students will identify with their neighborhoods as strongly as they do currently with the residence halls,” Buoy said.
LSA junior Abby Krumbein, a Walnut Street resident, said she likes the idea of hiring neighborhood ambassadors for each neighborhood, but feels that it might be unnecessary for certain areas where students have already established a sense of community.
“I already feel very communal on Walnut Street because I know a lot of people, and I have a lot of friends around,” Krumbein said.
Public Policy junior Gabe Pachter, who lives on Forest Court, said he thinks Beyond the Diag is a good program for ensuring safety in off-campus areas, but also feels that the community aspect is something students should establish themselves.
“When you move outside the residence hall, you make a conscious decision to be involved in your own program and your own social life,” Pachter said. “But I think this program is important for ensuring student safety and knowing there are people to go to within your neighborhood if a problem arises.”