Chapter 33: Safe Ride?

Savannah College of Art and Design's welcome center. 

"SCAD Safety Alert: This evening, on October 29, there were two separate attempted sexual assaults at gunpoint, on the 200 block of East Taylor Street and the East side of Forsyth Park.

Savannah Metro Police Department are In the area.

Students should use extreme caution, do not walk alone and please call SCAD Safe Ride for transportation assistance: 912-525-4500." 

I received this email alert at 11:30 on a Thursday night, SCAD's most social night of the week on Halloween weekend. 

Since living off campus at SCAD I've earned a new experience - an experience that requires pepper spray in hand and an alert eye at all hours of the day. Do you remember the buildings that are pictured in SCAD advertisements in downtown Savannah? Most of the buildings we actually work at are not in those picturesque areas of town. And there is no campus; our buildings miles and miles apart from one another. SCAD has acquired and renovated over 60 buildings in the good, bad, and ugly parts of town since being built. 

I work late into the night, and every time I come back to my apartment I’m constantly worried about somebody pulling a gun out and sticking it to my forehead

When, in 2013, I visited SCAD for the first time, I was blinded by the carefully planned tour I was given. I was walked into beautiful buildings where students were working hard, and watching videos of the senior fashion show... it all looked so beautiful. My first year staying in the dorms I was protected by barbed wire and campus security, but being off campus my only protection is a locked door. I work late into the night, and every time I come back to my apartment I'm constantly worried about somebody pulling a gun out and sticking it to my forehead. I live in a good part of town, right across from a SCAD building, and yet my roommates and I have encountered men following us to our cars yelling profane things to us on a few occasions. Just a few nights ago, multiple police cars were congregated in front of our building in attempts to catch somebody with pounds of drugs in his car. And every time I arrive home at night, my heart is racing out of fear and I'm saying a prayer that I will make it safely into my apartment. 

I'm the type of person to have anxiety about my safety because I know how much my parents care about my wellbeing. Most students here live far away from home, and their parents also would do anything to know they're safe at all times. But even with pepper spray in hand, there's no way to be ready for something like that. 

In the last three weeks there have been shootings, robberies, and petty theft that have left countless SCAD students fearful of living their lives normally. SCAD security is made out to be a strong force, but they are not. Students are forced by SCAD security to wait OUTSIDE their buildings at night up to two hours before getting a lift home... why isn't somebody waiting with them? Why isn't somebody at each building walking students to their cars? Why aren't SCAD security cars posted across the city to make sure students are safe at ALL times? And why aren't more buses running at night for the students that finish class at 10:30pm?

Of course, it's not SCAD's responsibility to ensure no crime ever happens in Savannah. Those expectations are unrealistic. But recently, due to a changing of the guard in the SCMPD, many officers have left the local force, leaving it understaffed and spread too thin. As a result, crime has metastasized, sprouting violently even in what we consider to be good areas of town - City Market, Jones and Bull, the Collins Quarter block, Forsyth Park; the list goes on. Does SCAD security take this into consideration? If our police force is struggling, couldn't SCAD take extra steps to ensure young artists' safety?

SCAD's carelessness about security is going to start turning people away from the institution; parents will not pay to send their children to a place with minimal safety precautions. Perhaps if SCAD sees their finances hurting, they will change their course of action; they're ultimately a for-profit school, but it's their social responsibility to take care of the students that fund its existence. 

So how can we fix this problem? SCAD can create a volunteer or paid group of people who walk students to their cars and houses late at night- a guy and a girl always be sent together. Alternatively, we students can create a Facebook group where we offer rides to other students at various buildings. We can create an alliance with SCAD to improve the safety of our school.  

However, until there is concern for this issue among the people that need to be concerned about it, nothing will change. I will still grip my pepper spray in fear every night when I come back at night. I will continue to ignore the drugged out guy yelling at me as I get in my car. I will continue to give rides to my friends without cars so they don't have to wait outside by themselves for an hour for SCAD's SafeRide. And I will not live in fear day in, and day out; I will be strong and mindful of my surroundings.

This is my warning to prospective students: Savannah is not the idyllic city SCAD portrays it as. I'm the first one to speak highly of SCAD, I love it. I love it more than so many people that go here, but this is where they fall short. I'm writing to better the school, not to shoot out an angsty, thoughtless blog post. If safety is strengthened, those picturesque publicity images might actually be realistic, because then every part of the school will be that good!

Join me in professionally telling SCAD that our security needs to be strengthened immediately for the benefit of the students and the school. 

-Ash