Opinions, Editorials

Boston College Should Partner with Local Governments to Install Off-Campus Emergency Blue Lights

Boston College should fulfill its responsibility to provide a safe living environment for its students by installing emergency blue lights around off-campus housing. Recent reports of attempted break-ins this year and increased reports of rape and stalking in 2021 demonstrate that BC must provide a security system for the hundreds of students that are not guaranteed four years of housing. 

In compliance with the Clery Act, BC’s recently released crime statistics show that reports of both rape and stalking increased in 2021. In particular, there were 14 reported cases of stalking in 2021, a 220 percent increase from 2020. This statistic, alongside BC’s consistently high rates of sex offenses compared to peer schools, reveals serious threats to the safety of students.

Only five of the reported 14 stalking cases in 2021, however, occurred at on-campus housing facilities. This means that nine of the 14 stalking cases—well over half—occurred off campus. These statistics do not include attempted break-ins, which have recently gained the attention of BC’s off-campus community. In particular, a masked man has appeared multiple times outside of students’ off-campus houses, seemingly attempting to break in. 

Given that studies have shown that sex crimes in colleges and universities are almost always underreported, the true number of stalking cases off campus at BC in 2021 could be much higher than 14. To combat off-campus criminal activity, the BC administration should consider installing safety equipment on nearby residential streets to ensure that students feel safe while living in their off-campus neighborhoods. 

While BC uses a variety of safety measures on and nearby campus, their most visible is the blue lights system—brightly lit boxes that call BCPD to the blue light’s location with the press of a button. Over 100 of these boxes are scattered across BC’s three campuses, with their blue lights visible nearly everywhere on campus, especially at night. 

Even though these boxes play a critical role in protecting students from the risk of rape or stalking, there are no such installations in the neighborhoods surrounding BC’s campus. 

BC, like many other universities, does not guarantee all undergraduate students four years of housing. Instead, the majority of students receive three years of guaranteed housing, with many students opting to live off campus their junior year. Thus, in any given year, hundreds of BC students live near BC’s campus in the City of Newton and Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston. 

Given that BC is in two cities at once, it could make it difficult for the administration to install blue light systems outside of its campus. After all, BC has a complicated history of cooperating with Newton

Yet, universities in similar situations have been able to work with their respective municipalities to install blue-light systems around their own off-campus housing. Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University, and Ohio State—all of which are also surrounded by dense cities and suburbs—have extensive blue-light systems around their off-campus housing. This demonstrates that working with local governments to install emergency systems is possible.

In the long term, BC has indicated plans to add over 1,600 beds worth of housing to Lower Campus and Brighton Campus, thereby possibly removing the need for off-campus undergraduate housing. These plans, however, are subject to change and would not be completed for many years. Current off-campus undergraduates cannot wait years for BC to create safer housing. 

A failure to install off campus emergency blue lights thus dismisses student safety—which inevitably extends beyond BC’s boundaries—leaving students who live off campus with an unfair lack of support from the University. The administration should work to provide off-campus blue-light emergency systems as soon as possible.

BCPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

October 23, 2022