Emerson Buddy System fosters community

AT ISSUE: Emerson’s newly formed Facebook page

OUR TAKE: The program is reflective of police priorities

Logging into the newly-formed Emerson Buddy System Facebook page, the atmosphere is nothing if not cheerful. The banner picture shows a cartoon city complete with technicolor trees. The posts, too, show a side of Boston that we rarely get to see—they are polite and clear, and other members are responsive. The group is a place where Emerson students can ask peers to walk with them between locations near campus. The goal is to promote safety for students who may feel unsafe walking alone. Buddies are numerous, and all incredibly friendly—according to the guidelines of the page, large groups are encouraged. Emerson Buddy System has a fun, almost jolly atmosphere, so that one might not guess that it emerged from unsafe feelings.

The student-created system arrived during a time where we’ve doubted the institutions meant to protect us, namely the Emerson College Police Department, as the Beacon reported before Thanksgiving break. Our feelings of mistrust toward police reflect a national trend. In fact, according to a 2015 Gallup poll,18 percent of Americans have little to no confidence in the police’s ability to protect citizens—the lowest it’s been in 22 years. Students recognized the failings and flaws of the institutions meant to keep us safe, and we’ve decided to take matters into our own hands. Where our governments or colleges fail us, we organize within our communities to support one another. The buddy system is working. It’s ensuring students feel safe traveling around the city. The group’s participants proved to be responsive and reliable. It’s an activism that’s quiet and sincere, and built from compassion. We’re keeping each other safe.  

And that’s necessary. Crime was at a 10-year low in Boston in 2015, but Emerson is still an urban campus. The former “Combat Zone” is in much better shape now than in the ‘70s, but criminals still occasionally threaten our safety. Seven people were stabbed nearby on Tremont Street in September; another man was slashed in October. A particular man has groped several Emerson students this semester. At least three students had their bikes stolen in September, according to a campus advisory email, and an intruder climbed the Little Building scaffolding and broke into the dormitory in January. (Not the first time that happened, by the way.) Violent crime, theft, and trespassing is something we have to face, even at our little arts and communications college.

It’s interesting that this student-run program was even developed, as ECPD has always offered a similar service. Students, faculty, and staff can call the department to be escorted—by foot or by vehicle—between locations on campus at any time. While it’s true that the buddy system goes beyond campus (participants can ask for buddies to travel all around Boston), students still regularly request walking partners within ECPD’s services bounds on campus. Rather than take greater advantage of this program, students have decided to rely on one another. That says volumes about the lack of trust students have in the department—they feel safer with their peers than with trained police officers.

Although it seems premature to raise doubts, every new endeavor should be viewed from all sides. There is a benefit to the ECPD-sanctioned cross-campus accompaniment—the campus police are pre-approved, certified, and identified figures on campus. They aren’t strangers, they’re officials. With the Emerson Buddy System, this benefit of pre-approved individuals does not exist. Students have to trust that everyone in the page who offers assistance is going into it with good intentions. And while it seems cynical, the question should be explored: how can we ensure those looking for protection don’t wind up being put in harm’s way? Implementing a certification system—something simple, but informative—could help deter those who want to abuse EBS and educate those want to help.

Safety needs to be a priority at Emerson and at every college. Students taking peer protection into our own hands is a good indicator of the community standards students strive to uphold here, and the public psyche surrounding the police force. This is the first step in a long walk home—we must continue to innovate and collaborate with the college to come up with comprehensive safety solutions.