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Brandeis improves Prospect St. studio’s safety

Published: March 21, 2014
Section: Front Page, News


The actions of Fine Arts majors in the past month prove that these students remain as committed to the vitality of their department as they are to their art. Students’ efforts combined with an article published in The Hoot on Feb. 14 have inspired major safety improvements for the dilapidated Fine Art building on Prospect St.

“The article made a huge difference. It caused a massive stir among the administration and opened up a real discussion about solving some of the issues surrounding the transportation to and from the building,” said Vikki Nunley ’14, the Fine Arts major interviewed for the previous Hoot article.

A month ago, Fine Arts majors who work and take classes at the Prospect St. studio (mainly upper-classmen and Post-Baccalaureate students) suffered not only because of the poor condition of the building, but also because of transportation. The studio is a significant distance away from Brandeis, and the BranVans had previously not been running to the studio. This led to student safety concerns.

It was not only The Hoot article that led to improved safety conditions for Fine Arts students—it was the actions of the students themselves.

Janet Jun Zhao ’14, a Fine Arts major and Undergraduate Departmental Representative, sent impassioned emails to Ed Callahan, chief of public safety, and to Waltham Police Captain Donald Feeney, who is in charge of the Patrol Division. She also got in contact with administration members. Likewise, Nunley spoke with Ed Callahan, and Rubert Thomas ’14, head coordinator of operations for BranVan, to improve transportation to the studio. Dean Lisa Boes also contacted her.

In her initial email to Callahan, Zhao detailed the fear she felt when standing outside the Prospect St. studio at night. The studio is over a half an hour walk from Rabb Graduate Center. BranVans were scarce at night.

“To demonstrate how dangerous this neighborhood is, I am going to tell you the story that happened an hour ago,” said Zhao in her email to Callahan, which she later forwarded to The Hoot. “I was standing out in the dark waiting for the Waltham BranVan to pick me up. A SUV stopped right in front of me, caught me completely off guard. Two males in their twenties opened the door and asked me if I was doing OK…they went on asking who I am waiting for. I lied that the Brandeis campus police is coming to pick me up but they clearly do not believe me…I demanded them to leave me alone,” she wrote.

Zhao has even more stories to tell. In an interview with The Hoot this week, she said, “I was harassed, and I hate the experience. I had to wait in the van with a can of spray paint and a brick in order to protect myself. I was angry about the fact that a Brandeis property is largely neglected by Brandeis, and we are still required to go there on a daily basis.”

Nunley shared similar experiences of harassment with The Hoot in the article published in February.

Fortunately, over the past month, given discussions mainly with Callahan and the Waltham Police Department, safety at the studio has been made a top concern.

Callahan discussed how he was prompted to meet with students and address the problem as soon as possible. “I happened to read The Hoot article and decided to reach out to one of the students quoted in the article. Subsequently we met with my Escort Safety Head Coordinator of van services. Transportation concerns were discussed, reviewed and solidified based on additional student needs, which were communicated during the meeting and email exchanges,” he said.

Officially, the Prospect St. studio is in the domain of the Waltham Police. “Brandeis police may respond to concerns within the building interior but would also request assistance from the Waltham police since the Brandeis police jurisdiction does not include exterior sidewalks or street areas,” Callahan said. He chose to reach out to Captain Feeney of Waltham Police.

“I was contacted by email by Chief Callahan on March 8, 2014. He forwarded me an email from a student who was reporting a suspicious incident to him that had occurred one hour before,” said Feeney in an interview this week. “The Chief forwarded the email to me and asked for increased Waltham Police Patrols in the area of 157 Prospect and Sharon streets Area for nights and weekends.”

Feeney has advised the night patrols to give extra attention to the Brandeis off-campus location, and instructed that if students encounter assaults or specific activity they should report it to the Waltham police.

“Try to follow the basic rules for personal safety when walking or waiting alone. Try to walk with someone else, keep your phone available but keep your head up, and be aware of where you are and who is around. Call 911 if you feel threatened or need help.

We have officers available who can come to campus and talk about personal safety and are RAD instructors as well,” said Feeney when asked for suggestions about how students can travel safely.

In regard to BranVan transportation, the situation has progressed according to many reports.
“BranVan service has improved greatly, with reliable service to and from the building for classes. That was a huge step,” said Nunley.

There is another, even more drastic safety improvement that Callahan has planned for the near future.

“I met recently with staff from Telecommunications/LTS who will be installing two RED ring down phones. These phones will be placed inside the building. One will be located near the main doors facing Prospect Street. The second phone will be installed near the Sharon street exit doors. Both phones will ring directly to Brandeis Police for any emergency which may occur within the building. These phones will be installed in the near future within the interior locations,” Callahan said.

Nunley has hopes that Brandeis may even improve the building itself. “There have been Brandeis facilities people sort of lurking about the building lately, but I don’t really know what they’re up to. One of the days I did see a bunch of them gathered around the rat traps under the stairs and making harrumphing noises though,” she said.

Not all students are satisfied with the changes, and expect more from the university. “Some students told me that they have seen Waltham police around for the first few days, but that’s it. The campus police might have been here but I have never seen them personally, so I cannot say anything for sure. However, BranVan is still like what it has been. They still, on many occasions, tell us to wait somewhere else ‘because we didn’t train drivers to go to the studio.’ I still don’t feel that much safer,” Zhao said.

Despite all of these changes both proposed and enacted, both Zhao and Nunley hope the studio is eventually moved on campus.

“I really hope they can give us a place on campus so that we don’t need to go to that place any more (even though I know this is impossible for now because Mr. Flagel said Brandeis don’t have the money for new buildings). If they insist on us going there, at least renovate the building and make it look like a studio, not a haunted dump garage,” said Zhao, a sentiment echoed by fellow majors.

For now, Nunley has stated that she appreciates the outreach by Brandeis administration and by the campus police.

“Brandeis can further support Brandeis Fine Arts majors by continuing to fund grants and classes,” she also mentioned.