Increase in WCU’s student population placing emphasis on campus safety

“It is up to each one of us to help foster a secure and supportive environment at Western Carolina University, an environment where individuals can feel safe to visit, learn, work, and live.”

Emergency dock with easy access to students, near Killian. Photo by Chelsea Komer

This reads from the 2017 Annual Fire Safety and Security Report and can be found in the opening letter by Chief of Police, Ernie Hudson.

After enrolling at WCU, students are required to watch safety videos, such as Shots Fired. Students and staff are urged to save the university’s direct contact to campus police – 828.227.8911 – in the case of any concerns or crimes committed. There are also numerous areas on campus, from walking paths to parking lots, where emergency stations and direct contact with the campus police are located.

What any of this may not account for is that student enrollment continues to increase every academic year and reached over 11,000 at the beginning of the 2017 Fall semester.

2013 was the first year that enrollment reached the 10,000 mark. Over the past ten years, enrollment has grown by more than 20 percent. In one year? A little over two percent.

What these numbers suggest is that WCU is thriving. From being named the Top Adventure School in the region to the growth of students, WCU is in a period of excellence. Funds and plans were established for more modern buildings, such as Noble Hall, Brown Hall, and now a new Natural Science Building due to the fact that with an increase in student activity comes the demands of more space and experiences.

With an increase in student enrollment also comes more competition, more crowds, and more tension. The likelihood of incidents and crimes increase as well.

During the month of October, two incidents were reported and investigated involving shootings. On Oct. 6, a junior, Jacob Alexander Ray, was fatally shot near Old Cullowhee Road. Three weeks later, police were investigating a shooting that occurred at the River Walk Apartments on campus involving a member of the WCU’s track team, Corey Alston.

Since then, and even prior, there are countless public safety emails that go out to students and staff about possible sexual assaults and burglaries. The latest being a suspected sexual assault near Noble Hall on Nov. 10.

A Resident Assistant and junior at WCU, Ashley Curry, believes that campus is and feels safe.

“We can’t really do anything to prevent assaults, but we can be more aware,” said Curry.

The recent shootings that occurred were quite unusual for the area urged Hudson.

Campus Police Chief Ernie Hudson. Photo by WCU

“What these crimes have shown is that we are not immune to violence,” said Hudson in an email message. “That is why we always have to be vigilant, not just when an issue arises.”

The university, both administration and campus police, pushes the idea of community. A safe campus can only be achieved through the cooperation of everyone on campus, that being the community.

“The key now is to reject the idea that we have to accept that as the new norm. As a community, we don’t have to accept it. That means that everybody, students included,” said Hudson.

According to Associate Vice Chancellor/Dean of Students, Kevin Koett, the WCU Police Department was authorized to hire four additional officers for the 2017-2018 year. In addition, the Department of Residential Living hired an additional Case Manager Position to assist in helping students process their concerns.

“We conduct regular assessments of how we can do things better to make WCU the safest place it can be for our students, faculty, and staff,” said Koett. “Whether we have an enrollment of 8,500 or 15,000, we want our students (and the entire WCU community) to be safe and secure.”

It is a reasonable and accurate to assume that with an increase in students WCU will see an increase in societal issues. On a daily basis, incidents and activities can be seen on televisions and once browsers are opened.

According to the November Provost Report for Faculty Senate, WCU plans to implement an app for campus safety in the near future.

“With all the students having a phone with them anywhere they go, a safety app would be a huge step toward the betterment of campus safety at WCU,” said Criminal Justice major, Cody Dockery.

Dockery believes that an app could save time when it comes to sending out alerts and reports. “Time is your most important resource.”

To access any additional information regarding enrollment or safety reports, visit the WCU website.