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Scarlet Zones Initiative aims to improve off-campus safety

<p>To increase safety for off-campus dwellers, RUPD and NBPD implemented an expanded crime notification system in the fifth and sixth wards of New Brunswick.</p>

To increase safety for off-campus dwellers, RUPD and NBPD implemented an expanded crime notification system in the fifth and sixth wards of New Brunswick.

Fifty-four percent of undergraduates in New Brunswick, around 17,000 students, live off-campus. Anyone who does not live in University housing is classified as an off-campus student, meaning whether a student commutes 40 minutes from northern New Jersey or lives five minutes from College Avenue, they are both categorized the same.

“I think we can all agree that the college experience of someone who drives 45 minutes every day to commute to class is very different from someone who walks 5 minutes to campus,” said Richard Trent, lead coordinator of the Scarlet Zones Initiative.

The Scarlet Zones Initiative is a grassroots effort on the part of Rutgers student leaders and alumni to improve the quality of life for off-campus students living in the neighborhoods in New Brunswick, he said.

Trent said the main concerns of the organization are about safety, quality of housing and the exchange of important information to students dwelling in off-campus neighborhoods. 

“We want to be sure campus police officers are patrolling our neighborhoods to prevent assaults and burglaries,” he said. “We want to make sure that when a disaster like a flood or hurricane happens, off-campus students are as well-informed about evacuation procedures as on-campus students.”

Last Spring semester, the University implemented an expanded crime notification system to alert students, faculty and staff of serious crimes that occur within the city’s fifth and sixth wards, University Spokesperson E.J. Miranda said in an email.

To make students even more comfortable living off-campus, the Scarlet Zones Initiative wants to collect data through surveys to inform University policy, Trent said. 

“To start, a team of volunteers will canvas New Brunswick to survey students about their perceptions and experiences living off-campus,” he said. “We will then analyze this data and make informed recommendations to Rutgers.”

As an organization, the Scarlet Zones Initiative has changed drastically since its start last April. The group managed to create a model for the survey and data analysis, which are tremendously important.

“A large portion of students, when asked what would make them feel safer in New Brunswick, mentioned things like a greater presence from RUPD and NBPD as well as more streetlights,” Trent said. “Several weeks later, an announcement was made that joint RUPD/NBPD teams would be patrolling the 5th and 6th wards. This is the kind of action we are looking for.”

The fifth and sixth wards of New Brunswick include those off-campus neighborhoods most heavily populated and frequented by students. The increase of alerts to students in those areas is exactly the type of positive change the initiative aims to accomplish.

The survey only looked at a small section of New Brunswick and had about 150 responses. They aim to take what they’ve learned about and apply it to all of Rutgers-New Brunswick.

Rutgers and the city of New Brunswick have also collaborated to implement the “Good Neighbor” program for students living in off-campus housing.

“They kicked off the program last week as volunteers from the University and the city walked through neighborhoods surrounding the New Brunswick campus and knocked on more than 900 doors and engaged in more than 550 face-to-face conversations with students and other residents,” Miranda said. 

Christina Thumann, a school of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore, has lived off-campus in the city of New Brunswick since her first year. She and her friends felt it would be a lot cheaper that way, she said.

“Despite all of the crime alerts I get on my phone, I still feel pretty safe living off campus,” Thumann said. “I probably wouldn’t want to head back home after 11 p.m. or so, but there have been a few nights I’ve stayed at Alexander until closing and felt perfectly fine.”

When asked what would make her feel safer living off-campus, her response was, “more street lamps. It gets pretty dark.”

“Our main problem is that students do not know we exist,” Trent said. “We are still a very small group of volunteers. We would like to see concerned student volunteer to help with our efforts over the next year.”

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