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Thursday July 7th

SafeWalk brings safety for UNC students on campus after hours

<p>Nick Chappell, left, and Ashley Harris wait inside Davis Library on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, as part of the SafeWalk program. Chappell is the program's director and wants to emphasize that asking for a walk is not a burden for those on duty. The group of about 10 students is employed by UNC-Chapel Hill and will walk with anyone to campus destinations and some apartment complexes.</p>
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Nick Chappell, left, and Ashley Harris wait inside Davis Library on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, as part of the SafeWalk program. Chappell is the program's director and wants to emphasize that asking for a walk is not a burden for those on duty. The group of about 10 students is employed by UNC-Chapel Hill and will walk with anyone to campus destinations and some apartment complexes.

Whether spending time with friends or studying in the library, many students take advantage of burning the midnight oil on campus, causing them to stay into the night hours. For Tar Heels who are trying to get home safely at night, SafeWalk provides a free walk with UNC students trained by the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

“We’re kind of just like a late-night buddy system that provides students that don't have other means of transportation a safe way to get home,” senior Nick Chappell, SafeWalk director, said.

Ways to request SafeWalk's services:

  • Call 919-962-SAFE.
  • Reserve a walk through the organization's Calendly.
  • Approach a SafeWalk team outside Davis Library.

The program, which operates Sunday through Thursday from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m, stretches to locations both on and off campus, including the Lark and Union apartment complexes.

There are three ways for UNC community members to request SafeWalk's services. Individuals can call 919-962-SAFE (7233), reserve a walk through the organization's Calendly, or approach a SafeWalk team outside Davis Library.

During nights of operation, two SafeWalk walkers in bright blue and yellow safety vests stand outside of Davis and ask students if they need a walk home.

Chappell said SafeWalk also has a student dispatcher that answers phone calls and emails from students requesting a walk. During their shifts, employees have access to equipment such as bicycles and umbrellas if needed.

“The past two years, we’ve seen record numbers in terms of student usage of the program," he said. "I think we’ve been averaging pretty consistently eight to nine walks a night, and that’s just with one pair of walkers."

Junior Rupin Sharma is in his second semester working with SafeWalk. He said the paid position has benefits both for night owls like himself who enjoy the exercise and for students who are on campus at night.

“We've had people definitely tell us that they feel safer when we're walking them home," Sharma said. "It's nice to have someone to talk to, it’s nice to have someone to be with and it’s nice to have a little bit of company as we go back."

Junior Sophia Raspanti, who has also been a walker with SafeWalk this semester, said she also appreciates the added safety the program brings to campus, as well as the program's healthy work environment.

“I really like how much positivity it brings to the campus environment, and just the idea that students are looking out for other students,” she said. 

During the height of the pandemic, Chappell said COVID-19 safety protocols altered how walks were available for students. Instead of walking with students in person, SafeWalk provided phone call services, talking to students who needed a walk home over the phone.

The program also had to scale back its hours during the pandemic, but this past semester, SafeWalk has returned to a schedule similar to their pre-pandemic hours. Each SafeWalk employee is required to wear a mask when working their shift, whether in the office or around campus.

“What I’m most proud of is bringing this program back to what it used to be,” Chappell said. “A lot of times, people will think it is a burden for us to walk them, even though we get paid to do this, and we enjoy doing this.” 

@collinatadlock

university@dailytarheel.com

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