UTPD initiates Safe Chats to promote safety dialogues on campus

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These days, it would be hard to walk across UT’s campus without seeing the black-and-blue posters and banners bearing the hashtag “#SafeChats” set up in and around UT buildings — the third phase in a UT Police Department initiative aimed to promote safety dialogues on campus.

The Be Safe campaign originally began in 2015 with the same goal but it wasn’t nearly as prominent as it is today, UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said.  After the death of dance freshman Haruka Weiser on campus last April, UTPD and other campus partners, including Student Government and the Division of Student Affairs, initiated a more aggressive campaign agenda, Posey said. 

“We are trying to be incredibly conscious of the sensitivity of everything,” Posey said. “We’re encouraging people to start talking about how to be safe, and we want to encourage these conversations.”

The first phase of the campaign, initiated during move-in last fall, introduced three main points of conversation — “Walk With Me,” “Be Aware of Your Surroundings” and “Call 911” — ideas meant to encourage students to practice safe habits when walking on or to-and-from campus. The second phase, which began midway through last semester, introduced visuals around campus depicting safe practices such as walking with a buddy and taking out earbuds when walking on campus.

After April’s tragedy, Weiser’s family played an important role in providing feedback and suggestions about how to best implement the Be Safe initiatives, primarily in the “Walk With Me” message, Posey said. 

“I think (the campaign) creates a conversation and makes people realize that bad things can happen to you,” government junior Ashlynn Bryant said. “I’ve implemented this though in my own conversations, both as a First-Year Interest Group mentor and with my friends. This (tragedy) is real and it has happened, and it can happen to you or anyone, and when it does happen, you have to implement different strategies to feel safe again.”

Phase three of the Be Safe campaign, which was implemented toward the end of the fall semester and is currently being promoted across campus, expands on the posters and visuals seen on campus and on UTPD’s social media. In this phase of the campaign, the visuals on campus depict “Safe Chats” between students, or dialogues that demonstrate the three practices introduced in phase one of the campaign.

“Our goal is to saturate the campus with this message in every way that we find valuable,” Posey said. “Things will happen on a daily basis that fit into these campaigns. We want students to spread the word and talk about all aspects of safety.”

UTPD has collaborated closely with SG throughout the Be Safe campaign to promote these safety initiatives. 

“Phase three ties in the hashtag “#SafeChats” to make it more organic for students,” Student Body President Kevin Helgren said. “Safety doesn’t have to be a giant conversation — it’s simple as texting a friend before leaving the PCL and saying ‘Hey, I’m about to leave the PCL, do you wanna walk together?’ We want these conversations about safety to happen in a organic and natural way.”

UTPD plans to continue implementing safety initiatives in other phases throughout the semester.