For Penn State student leaders, the safety of their constituents is of the utmost importance. That’s why a group of representatives from student government and Greek life stopped by Monday’s borough council meeting.
“For the past few years, UPUA has received numerous complaints from our constituents that the Highlands area is excessively dark at night,” said Terry Ford, the UPUA vice president.
“A lot of our students specifically don’t feel safe walking in the area,” Ford added. “We formed a coalition with several other student groups and went on a tour and identified over 10 locations that we deemed to be excessively dark.”
The UPUA later included the Highlands Civic Association and borough council in the discussion. The coalition invited the civic association for a second walking tour of the neighborhood, which makes up the bulk of the downtown residential area south of Beaver Avenue, between Atherton Street and University Drive.
The group identified six areas of concern. The UPUA general assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Wednesday night that requests the council to fund the installation of lights at those locations.
“In our view, if there is anything we can do as student leaders or that you can do as community leaders to enhance student safety, that’s important,” Ford said. “This isn’t so much about the cost or crime statistics, but it’s about making students feel more safe here in the community. If there is just one student that I represent that could feel more safe in this community they call home as a result of these lights, I have to speak on their behalf.”
David Stone, a State College resident running for borough council, offered mixed feelings on the idea of added lights to the Highlands.
“What I don’t want to see happen is a couple token lights as some kind of window dressing and make this all go away,” Stone said, referencing the problems with sexual assaults at fraternities. “I’m just concerned that a few lights, which may or may not be controversial, are an interesting starting point but may not be enough.”
Most of the council members seemed very receptive to the request and interested in exploring it further. Theresa Lafer, however, had some harsh words for the student representatives at the meeting.
“I grant that you need safety, but I walk my dog every night, sometimes as late as 3 a.m.,” she says. “I feel safest on the unlighted areas. I have never been accosted by an aggressive drunk anywhere other than the lighted area of my street. Practical experience tells me that those lights increase the danger for people who live here not for two years or four years, but for five or 10 or 20 years.”
Lafer also suggested students can avoid being sexually assaulted by not getting drunk at downtown parties. Councilman Evan Myers responded that blaming sexual assault victims is “abhorrent.”
Council agreed to reevaluate its lighting policy at a work session within the next month, as the current policy doesn’t allow for lights in alleys.