Some students who attend Texas A&M-San Antonio for evening classes have expressed safety concerns with parking areas. The problem? Poor lighting, lack of pedestrian walkways, feral animals, speeding traffic, and lack of police presence that all contribute to what students say are unsafe conditions at night.
In response to parking safety concerns, William Spindle, vice president for Business Affairs and CFO at Texas A&M-San Antonio, said that the university understands that not every student wants to purchase a $60 parking permit, which is why free parking is provided on City of San Antonio streets. Spindle said that the university and the City are looking into ways to address student concerns.
Student apprehensions were expressed in parking citation rebuttals, as well as in interviews conducted near the parking area in question.
One student noted, on a rebuttal to a parking citation, a suspicious man roaming the parking area before her evening class. Citing past run-ins with vagrants, she said she took extra precaution by parking in the well-lit parking area nearest the campus. As a result, she received a ticket from the University Police for not having a parking permit.
“I felt safer knowing my walk to the car would be pretty short, since it gets really dark at this time,” the rebuttal stated.
According to University Police, the only authorized areas where students may park without purchasing a parking permit are along University Way and Verano Parkway, which stretches between Interstate 410 and the Main Campus area of the university, and which are owned by the City of San Antonio.
To legally park in the patrolled and illuminated parking areas on campus, all faculty, students, staff, and contractors must purchase a parking permit from the University Police Department, valued at $60 per school year. Many students have cited financial hardship as the catalyst for not purchasing the permit.
According to Lisa Pena, a staff member with the Office of Institutional Advancement at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, 74 percent of students who attend A&M-San Antonio are on some form of financial assistance.
Betty Wright, a fourth-year student who attends the university on financial assistance, detailed how the charges associated with purchasing a parking permit would be too great of a financial commitment to make with her current budget.
“It’s not a matter of it being ‘just’ $60. When you’re having to pay for tuition, student activity fees, and books, and you’re waiting to see if your financial aid comes through, you have to decide, ‘do I pay for a parking pass to feel a little safer at night, or do I eat for the next two weeks?’” Wright said.
Among the many student complaints lobbied against the parking area, the chief concern seems to hinge on what some students consider a purposeful undermining of safety, in order to encourage purchases of the campus parking permit.
Chris Whitney, an anti-terrorism and force protection expert formerly with the Department of Defense, detailed how factors currently present in the non-permit parking formed what he considered a prime setting for violent crime, calling it a “target-rich environment” and “extortion for safety.”
“By exposing students, many of which are young females without self-defense training, to conditions which have poor visibility and poor security presence is tantamount to giving a green light to potential rape, assault, and aggravated theft,” Whitney said.
While some students have chosen to simply take the fine in exchange for a sense of safety, others have found novel ways to be both safe and legal.
Glarisa Chavez, a nursing student at The University of Texas at San Antonio, said that she drives her partner to the A&M-San Antonio campus each night so they can park in the visitors parking area and walk together to and from the well-lit parking area after class.
“What we hate to think about is someone attacking her while walking back to her car down the main road, or even snakes or the pigs that are on campus…We can’t afford to buy a permit, so I just bring her and wait in the lobby watching Netflix on my phone,” Chavez said.
Chief Ronald Davidson, of the University Police Department, responded to student concerns, stating that coordination measures between UPD and the San Antonio Police Department are intended to provide a safe environment for all, both on and off campus.
“The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is not a joke,” Davidson said.
The chief detailed future plans to implement a campus wide iPhone and Android application, which could provide all persons at Texas A&M-San Antonio with access to a Bluetooth panic button.
The SafeZone app, Davidson said, can be tied to a university profile and will provide UPD with the ability to track GPS locations of users when activated. This potential new tool in the UPD arsenal would provide a means for officers to quickly respond to panic alerts.
Addressing claims that the University tickets students to promote purchasing of the parking permit Davidson explained, “Citations issued in that area go to the city and not the campus. Most of the time we don’t even ticket unless the violation is substantial. Even then, I often dismiss no-permit parking tickets if the individual later purchases a permit.”