We take every possible measure to ensure the personal safety and security of UVA’s students. Yet incidents of violence do sometimes occur in our community. We were reminded of this reality in the most horrific way this fall with the disappearance and death of Hannah Graham. This semester has been particularly difficult for students in the Class of 2017, as they have lost two of their classmates. In addition to Hannah, second-year student Connor Cormier died in October.
The first priority in the University’s strategic plan is to strengthen UVA’s distinctive residential learning culture. But we know that our students cannot thrive here if they are concerned and anxious about their own safety. So we are taking several new measures to improve safety around the Grounds and in neighboring areas.
We have looked first at the Grounds. We have increased UVA’s police presence, the number of patrols, and the range of resources available to members of our community. This has included adding to the capacity of the SafeRide van-transport system that is available to students after UVA buses have stopped running. Because alcohol can often be a contributing factor in safety problems, we are re-examining our alcohol-education program to encourage students to consume alcohol responsibly, if they consume at all.
One of our immediate priorities is establishing a police substation on the Corner. Under our preliminary plan, the substation will operate on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. At the time of this writing, we are working jointly with the Charlottesville Police Department to identify appropriate space and staffing.
We have formed an internal Safety Working Group to develop recommendations to make additional safety improvements to our environment. This includes expanding the use of exterior surveillance cameras and reviewing the placement of our 500-plus emergency phones around the Grounds.
Another example of our efforts is improving the lighting around the Grounds. We carried out a lighting study in the fall of 2011, and in the first phase of implementation, we invested more than $400,000 to improve lighting at the most heavily used crosswalks on Grounds. We have begun a second phase to improve the uniformity of lighting on heavily traveled walkways by adding about 160 new light fixtures and replacing another 100 fixtures.
We are also looking into safety practices at peer schools. Universities freely share information and work together to evaluate and ensure best practices in emergency preparation, response, and recovery. Learning from our peers is one way to ensure that our safety programs and practices are state-of-the-art.
We are working with our partners in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, as well as with business owners and rental property owners, to make our community safer. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Pat Hogan and I have met with city and county officials, and Pat Hogan has convened a Community Safety Advisory Group to consider safety- and security-related issues in the immediate vicinity of the Grounds, on the Corner, and in the corridor that extends east from the University to Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.
Making UVA as safe as possible will require partnership, and many partners have a role, including faculty and staff, students, parents, police and community business leaders—as well as alumni. I know from my interactions with alumni that you share our concern and our commitment to make UVA as safe as possible. During the days and weeks following Hannah Graham’s disappearance, I heard from many alumni and friends across the country who reached out with consolation, encouragement, and offers of help.
I am grateful for this profound show of support this fall. It has reminded me, once again, of the strong and enduring bonds that connect all of us as members of the University family.