Safety in (Small) Numbers
The Yonkers SWAT team infiltrated Garrison, Rothschild, and Taylor this summer. But there was no suspicious package or hostile intruder. The team was just practicing, as part of the College’s efforts to ensure that Sarah Lawrence is fully prepared for any emergency that might arise.
Safety has always been a top concern of the SLC administration, but after the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech this spring, the College took additional steps to ensure that the campus community is prepared for a crisis. Operations and public safety staff reviewed their procedures with the Yonkers police commissioner and established a strong relationship with the Emergency Services Unit.
“We in the public safety business have a motto, ‘train for the worst and hope for the best,’” said Larry Hoffman, director of public safety.
In addition, the College implemented a new emergency notification system that can send alerts to the College community via e-mail, voice mail, and text message.
Of course, the public safety department works hard to ensure that the system never has to be used for anything more exciting than announcing a snow day. Prevention is the name of the game, said Hoffman, noting that the College works hard to anticipate safety problems before they arise.
But safety officers rely on the eyes and ears of the community to notice when something’s amiss. “Students are our first line of defense,” said Al Green, dean of studies and student life. “If they see something that makes them uncomfortable, they can call Westlands desk, day or night, and a safety officer will check it out.”
The College also takes care to support troubled students and to intervene before students become a danger to themselves or the community. In May, Health Services and the Office of Student Affairs talked to concerned students, faculty, and staff about how to recognize and respond to students having emotional difficulties. Nance Roy, director of health services, encouraged community members to call Health Services if they weren’t sure whether someone needed help.
Roy also noted that the very nature of Sarah Lawrence makes it hard to overlook a troubled student. “Our focus on the individual means that there are a lot of eyes on each student.”
Dean of the College Pauline Watts affirmed that sentiment, adding that “the life of the College is teaching and learning. Our safety efforts ensure that students can do what they’re here to do: have positive, spontaneous learning experiences.”
—Suzanne Gray MFA ’04