North Texas Daily

TWU provides security for students through ‘Night Owls’ program

TWU provides security for students through ‘Night Owls’ program

TWU provides security for students through ‘Night Owls’ program
March 10
13:00 2023

Texas Woman’s University now offers a free service called Night Owls to assist students walking to destinations on campus at night by providing help from volunteers.

The new program is available to students who may feel unsafe walking across campus without company and offers rides in golf carts to their destination. Formally launched on Jan. 30, the program has seen a 33 percent increase in usage each week since its launch, Night Owls supervisor Thomas Light said

“It’s a pretty new experience for us, so we’re still working out the kinks, and we’ve had really positive responses from students,”  Light said. “We expect our usership to continue to go up as the semester goes on. So it’s really exciting to see this roll out and actually be used.”

Night Owls is not the first program of its kind. In 2015, the University of Michigan made headlines when a student startup app called Companions allowed users to digitally monitor their loved ones as they walked on campus at night. The University of Texas at Austin also launched SURE Walk in 2016, which saw a 400 percent increase in use following a campus homicide. Similar programs have sprouted up in colleges since.

“I feel like many of us run on our own schedule, and it’s not always that you can just study with your friends at the library until midnight or even past sundown,” TWU accounting and finance junior Melissa Sierra said. “I am sure more women on campus would feel comfortable just walking out of the library whenever they want, instead of feeling like they have to get home at a certain time before it gets ‘too scary.’ Also, it gives them more time to focus on their studies, at the library, where they know it is safe. Not only is it helpful towards their wellbeing, but to their education as well.”

The university’s Student Life and the Blagg-Huey Library utilized flyers and electronic display boards around campus to spread the word about the new service, and the weekly Student Life newsletter sent emails to inform students.

“This was a proactive decision,” Light said. “The TWU police department has always offered escort services for students that requested. In spring ‘22, the parking department was moved under Student Life in a restructuring.”

Ten students and one full-time staff member currently oversee the operations at night. Night Owls currently has its office on campus in the Blagg-Huey Library, where students can speak to the information desk to use the service, or by calling 940-898-2293. From Monday through Thursday, operating hours begin at 7 p.m. and end at midnight, and on Friday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“We are a smaller campus, so everything is pretty close,” Light said. “We purchased a six-passenger golf cart and that’s what we’re using to shuttle people around from their dorms, or to their parking lot in the evenings. So right now that seems to be holding up fine, we will see when we get more data by the end of the semester if we need to expand it.”

The parking department started searching for student assistance in December by posting on Handshake.  After the interview and hiring process was completed, volunteers were required to do basic safety training to transport students in the golf carts. The university also offers Pioneer Pathlight, an app that allows users to request for someone from the TWU Department of Public Safety virtually accompany them as they move around campus.

“Having someone to walk you to your dorm or your car or whatever location creates a safer environment and prevents harm from entering the premises,” Sierra said. “Someone with bad intentions will be aware that there are people watching, that there are fewer students walking alone, and that safety is a priority at a university if they have programs like Night Owls.”

The University of North Texas currently does not offer a program like Night Owls. However, the two universities serve very different sizes of student body. TWU had a fall enrollment of almost 16,000 while UNT had almost 45,000.

“It would be great if UNT ever implemented something similar to Night Owls, due to lots of activities, clubs, sororities and fraternities having events that run late, it would be a very useful system to have in place,” UNT kinesiology senior Julia Di Bernardo said. “I definitely would utilize this tool if it was offered to us. With lacrosse practices running into the night, it would be nice for some of the girls on the team who are walking across campus to their cars.”

The university does offer campus safety alternatives, such as emergency touch buttons located across the university that are available 24/7 to alert campus police,  as well as late night e-ride buses and free Lyft rides between 2-7 a.m. The university also offers Threatening Encounters and Strategies Techniques self-defense training.

“I think other universities should try something similar to Night Owls,” Sierra said. “Many campuses have streets and parking lots super close to their university’s facilities and amenities, such as classrooms, gyms, libraries, etc. Meaning, anyone can just walk on campus, including harmful people. Also, it may protect students from other students, it doesn’t always have to be a foreign stranger.”

Featured Image Texas Woman’s University senior Kimberly Colin (right) prepares to drive senior Chioma Maduka (left) back to Maduka’s dorm on March 6, 2023. Hannah Sutherland

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Celie Price

Celie Price

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