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SafeWalk program offers students a safe way home

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UNC second-year graduate student Nick Chappell and sophomore Lindsey Vaughan pose for a portrait in front of Davis Library on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. Chappell is the Program Director for SafeWalk and Vaughan is the Director of Marketing.

At his first FallFest in 2018, second-year graduate student Nick Chappell heard a group of students advertising SafeWalk shout, "Who wants to get paid to walk?" Now, he is the program’s director.

SafeWalk is a student-run program that aims to provide safe company at night for students who may feel unsafe walking home. 

On request, two SafeWalk student employees will travel alongside the student until they arrive at their destination, operating within a rough 1.5 to 2-mile radius of Davis Library.

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“I know a lot of people, if they’re walking alone at night, it can be a scary experience,” Danielle Kennedy, a SafeWalk employee, said. “UNC does a good job of trying to keep the campus safe, but you can’t always guarantee that everything’s going to be good.”

Planning for the program began in 2009, and its first operational semester was the spring of 2010. Chappell said around that time, there was a general concern for student safety following the 2008 murder of then-Student Body President Eve Carson. The program began to operate under UNC Police in the spring of 2022.

Chappell said that it is a common misconception that the walkers are volunteers — they are paid employees. All walkers are “Responsible Employees,” which means they are required to report any instance of discrimination, harassment, sexual and interpersonal violence or stalking. Students working for SafeWalk also undergo a standard University background check before being hired.

Recent uniform upgrades, such as new branded reflective polos and radios, are helping to make people aware of the legitimacy of the program, Chapell said.

“We’re just trying to build that image that we are an official University-sponsored program, not just some random people who decided ‘Hey, this is something I want to do,'" Chappell said.

Because all SafeWalk employees are students, Kennedy said she thinks student users feel safer because they see people their age rather than older police officers.

“I’m so glad that it has always been and remains a student-run organization," James David, a supervisor of SafeWalk, said.

 Lindsey Vaughan, the director of marketing for SafeWalk, said that even if many students don’t use the program, knowing that the option is available to them is comforting.

Students can reserve a walk days in advance or call on the phone to request walkers to their location. Kennedy also said any student can use SafeWalk, even those who feel perfectly safe walking alone at night.

“I feel that if more people were realizing that they don’t necessarily have to feel unsafe to use our service, I think more people will take advantage of it,” Kennedy said.

The program employs around 13 people, Chappell said, which allows them to operate with two teams of four who work Sunday through Thursday. The walkers work in pairs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Chapell said with two teams running, SafeWalk can expect around 12 to 14 walks per night.

Vaughan said plans for program expansion have been suggested, such as longer hours of operation. She also said one of their goals is to create a safe ride program, in which students could be driven to their destination. 

Both Vaughan and Chappell said SafeWalk is considering placing a second team in Rams Plaza, which is a high area of traffic because of Chase Dining Hall and Rams Head Recreation Center. Chase operates until midnight on Sunday through Thursday, and Rams Head until 11 p.m. on weeknights.

"Even if you’ve never done it before, and you want to try it out, please absolutely go for it,” Vaughan said.

@aidan__lockhart

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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