UWI freshers feel security jitters
... but registrar confident campus safe; still no decision on Matthew Hyde’s fate
As many first-year students who have matriculated into The University of the West Indies, Mona prepare to start classes next week, security at the St Andrew-based institution remains top of mind.
The campus had to grapple with a number of security-related crises in the last year and a half, including several car thefts, a case of sexual assault in a bathroom, and an alleged torture of a female in a hall of residence.
Tales of kidnappings were once frequent and robberies have also been common, with the entrance on Golding Avenue next to Irvine Hall among the problematic areas, especially late at nights.
In 2020, there was an attempted abduction of a female student by a cab driver along Golding Avenue near the campus. According to police reports, the driver pulled a knife and held it at the student’s throat before physically assaulting her. She managed to break free and escaped from the car with bruises.
Within the same year, 22-year-old visually impaired first-year student, Jasmine Deen, boarded a taxi at the Golding Avenue gate, commonly called the ‘back gate’, around 9 p.m. and never made it home.
Despite police investigations and a reward of $350,000 for information on the case, she has not been found.
Former Jamaica College student Dameion Rose, who spoke with The Gleaner on Wednesday, said his parents had expressed their fear of his travelling to and from the institution, especially in the late evenings.
“The previous thing about the whole girl being kidnapped kinda roughed me up a bit. My parents were like, ‘You sure you wanna go there?’, and I said, ‘Well, I’m not boarding or anything.’ But I just figured [UWI] is the best college I know of on the island, so why not just risk it?” he explained.
“But I do not trust that back gate! No way!” he exclaimed.
The youngster added that while he typically travels with a group of his peers, he remains “very much” concerned for students’ safety.
LESS THREATENING AT DAYTIME
He, however, reasoned that, so far, based on what he has seen, the campus environment is a lot less threatening during the daytime.
“I hear it’s a different environment at night,” said the youngster who is embarking on studies in marine biology. The concern, he added, caused him to opt not to select late classes.
In the event that it becomes inevitable, he plans to call his parents for a pick-up or charter a taxi, something he also sought to encourage others, especially female students, to consider doing as well.
Cherish-Amor Blades, a Barbadian looking forward to studying international relations, told The Gleaner that the various reports of abductions, robberies and assault cases were “on my radar”, but she believes that, once she stays clear of “roaming” the campus at night, especially as a fresher, this will reduce any risk.
Meanwhile, Lauren Lewis, a commuting student with a few night classes scheduled, expressed a level of anxiety about her safety.
The former Immaculate Conception High School student voiced confidence, however, in the fairly new mobile application known as Rush Alert, which is being used on campus.
The app is designed to, among other things, track the location of individuals, and consists of many features, one of which is the capability of sending a distress alert to the campus’ security team if caught in a dangerous situation.
She also noted that the library’s overnight reading room can be used to study late at nights, complete assignments or remain until daylight.
Mona Campus Registrar Dr Donovan Stanberry is reassuring students that as the academic year begins, there will be a full complement of guards deployed in strategic areas on 653-acre campus, based on a risk analysis.
The campus had significantly scaled back security services towards the end of the last academic year.
NEW SECURITY PROVIDER
Stanberry said that the transition of security providers Guardsman Group to KingAlarm Systems has since been concluded.
“In fact, we strategically took the summer months to make sure that we ironed out all the kinks,” he told The Gleaner.
He stated that the university would not be compromising on security, as it has a duty to ensure students, staff, and all who use the campus are safe.
Stanberry said that the institution is “at a good place”, and he is “comfortable” with the level of security at the moment, adding that, whatever issues arise, the institution will be able to get on top of it.
The campus registrar also urged students to make use of designated taxi drivers who have an arrangement with the campus and “resist the temptation of just going to any random taxi out there”.
He also noted the value of the Rush Alert security app, which is being introduced to students during the orientation process.
Stanberry urged students to be vigilant and to look out for each other, because it does not matter how many cameras are available on campus and security guards on the ground, “ultimately, everyone has to be conscious of the space that they are in”.
Asked for an update on any disciplinary action taken against Matthew Hyde, the then-20-year-old man accused of holding his then-19-year-old ex-girlfriend captive in his dorm room for three days and torturing her earlier this year, Stanberry did not say explicitly whether he had been expelled.
Hyde is still before the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court facing charges of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, use of malicious communication, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and false imprisonment.
Stanberry said that holding the disciplinary hearings has been challenging, given that Hyde is still in police custody.
“He’s not in school right now [since] the incident. So, in a sense, what happens in the court will also impact our own disciplinary procedures, ... but we have not abandoned it,” he added.