York students rally to discuss safety

Students divided over ideas like key cards and more policing
The crowd outside Vari Hall on Wednesday

After five crimes on campus at York University last week—two armed robberies, an assault where a student was struck with a piece of metal, and two sexual assaults—students gathered outside of York’s Vari Hall on Wednesday afternoon to rally for improvements to safety at the university.

Fewer than 100 people attended, a number much lower than the more than 1,300 who had confirmed on Facebook that they would attend.

Kasra Amidi-Rad, one of the rally’s organizers, gave the opening speech. “During the past few weeks there have been incidents that have occurred in a very, very rapid pace and we would like to come up with a list of suggestions,” he said, adding, “we will present them to the president during the open forum tomorrow.”

The President’s Open Forum on Campus Safety, on Thursday at noon in Founders College, will allow students, faculty and staff to offer safety ideas to administration and the Toronto Police.

Amidi-Rad and Navid Khan moderated the rally, urging students not to be shy about participating in the discussion. Following their speeches, students were invited to take the megaphone.

The idea of increasing the police presence was brought up a number of times by different students and gained mixed reactions from those gathered. Some booed and some clapped.

“It depends on how many officers we have coming to the school and patrolling it,” Robert Krasny, a fourth-year student and president of Vanier College, told the crowd. “If you want hundreds of police… then York University is just going to look like a prison,” he said.

Those in favour of additional police officers argued that the current number of security officers on campus is too low to monitor the actions of 55,000 students and prevent crime. Joanne Rider, of York media relations, notes that the staff includes 46 security officials, supervisors and squad leaders, seven campus relations employees, 21 residence watch officials and more.

Additional suggestions at the rally included creating a police station right on York’s campus and having security services headquarters in all major buildings on campus.

Some expressed their anger about hearing fellow students debasing their school and saying that York security offices are “doing nothing” in light of the recent crimes.

“I’ve been here for four years and it upsets me to hear people blindly, ignorantly bashing the entire institution as a whole,” said Bahar Madani, a fourth-year biology student. She said that security is doing their best with the resources they have and that students must look out for each other.

Amidi-Rad and Khan both said they are in favour of a key card access system for all buildings on campus and asked the crowd to share their opinions on the pros and cons of the idea. Students voiced only cons about this system including possible racial profiling if students forget their key card, and students holding doors open for people as often occurs in residence buildings.

Michelle Le, a fourth-year health studies student says she think there should be better communication between security and students and that this could be improved by including a list of contacts at the end of the security bulletins that are sent out after crimes. “We get a notification through email, but it’s a one-way email,” she adds. “We can’t email back asking questions.”

Janet Morrison, vice-provost students at York University, says there are tensions around certain security solutions in the York community. “Some people want more police. Some people do not want police. Some people want more security in buildings, some people do not.”

“The richness of the York community,” adds Morrison, is that “we can have constructive discussions about those tensions in a way that makes everybody feel like their opinions are valued.”