Public safety enforces unsafe policy

By Jessie Kuenzel
Staff Writer

picture of handprints in the snow

“Policies that have been put in place not only hindered the assistance of a Simmons student, but put her health and safety in very real jeopardy.”

Bostonians are well known for their absurdly speedy pace as they make their way across the city, but even the fastest city dwellers have had to slow down during these treacherous conditions.

Lately, making your way around Boston has become an entirely unpleasant experience that consists of climbing over and around snowbanks so tall you can’t even see over the top of them, picking your way across slushy and slippery sidewalks, and trying to avoid the puddles of melted snow and street filth that look shallow but are actually deep enough to wish you’d invested in a pair of hip waders.

In short, the aftermath of all this ridiculous weather has made walking around into a take-your-life-in-your-own-hands kind of experience for even the most sure-footed.

No resident of the city has ventured out the door without the fear of falling lingering in the back of their mind. But there are many in this community for whom this weather has caused far more than vague concern; the current traveling conditions have placed people with injuries or disabilities that affect mobility in serious danger.

With the unwavering party line that student safety is of the utmost importance, one would think that Simmons College would be more than willing to assist those students who have felt themselves unable to safely travel back and forth between campuses. Unfortunately, any students who might be hopeful enough to think that Simmons would step up and help those in need of transportation assistance are about to be thoroughly disappointed.

Last Tuesday night, Alison Berstein—a senior at Simmons College and a copy editor here at the Voice—reached out to the Public Safety office hoping they could give her a ride back to the residence campus. Berstein has been suffering from a herniated disc that is pinching a nerve in her left leg, the side effects of which have manifested as extreme pain in her leg, and highly impaired mobility and balance.

When she was finished with her work at the Voice, at nearly midnight, the pain in Berstein’s leg had reached a point where she feared she would be unable to walk back to her dorm. Berstein contacted the Public Safety office and was informed that it is against Simmons Public Safety policy to offer rides to students, despite any extenuating circumstances.

The only alternatives that were offered to Berstein were a walking escort—not much help when the physical act of walking is the problem—and the suggestion of calling a cab; when inquiries where made about the possibility of getting a wheelchair, Berstein was told that the Health Center was closed for the night and that was out of the question. With no other options left to her, Berstein, with the assistance of other Voice staff, was forced to make her way back on foot. The walk, or “hobble” as Berstein herself described it, took over 20 minutes.

“I was surprised that a school like Simmons would do that,” said Berstein. “I love it here and it really came as a shock. Simmons is such a renowned school that students want to feel safe in, and every portion of Simmons should reflect that, Public Safety included.

“This problem is also magnified by all the snow that we have been getting, and the accompanying ice and cold. So it’s even harder to get around and even more important to see safety through,” Berstein continued.

The public safety office informed Berstein that it is “Simmons Policy” not to give rides to students, only to offer walking escorts. On the surface, this is a seemingly understandable and harmless policy. One of the services promised by Public Safety is “safety escorts.”

pic of the simmons police patch

Image: Simmons College Public Safety Facebook page

“The Simmons College community is generally a safe and secure area,” explains the website. “We provide safety escorts in the event a student, faculty member, or staff member does not feel safe. Simmons Public Safety provides walking escorts to Simmons College Community Members to/from any Simmons College location, during evening hours.”

While this policy is theoretically sufficient to assist students who—as outlined in the description—are worried about their safety, there is no mention or acknowledgement anywhere on the webpage about students in need of assistance for health reasons.

The reality is that Berstein felt that her personal safety was in jeopardy, and she reached out—as she should have—to the office whose job it is to maintain and protect the safety of every single student at all times, only to be turned away.

The two weak suggestions made by the office, to have a walking escort or take a cab, were completely insensitive to the gravity of Berstein’s situation.

Although this situation was largely caused due to the fact that there is a standing policy in place to prohibit staff members from providing rides to students, there is another aspect of this issue that is important to consider.

Clearly, Berstein’s health factors significantly into this dilemma, and also impacts other components of her personal safety. Being exposed to cold temperatures can be unsafe for long periods of time, and the state of her injury clearly impeded her ability to return home quickly.

Furthermore, although Berstein was fortunate to have assistance in the form of other students, other individuals might not benefit from the same camaraderie, and this could put other people in unsafe situations.

Students at Simmons are constantly reassured that, should a situation arise after the college is closed, Public Safety will always be there to provide a—as the name implies—safe solution. And yet, in two cases—and probably many more—policies that have been put in place not only hindered the assistance of a Simmons student, but put her health and safety in very real jeopardy.

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