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City, university address campus safety concerns


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — It’s hard to overstate how much Marshall University means to Huntington. The university is the heart of the city, Mayor Steve Williams said, and its students are as much residents of the city as they are the school. In most cases, Marshall is the student population’s first, sometimes only, experience with Huntington.

But with a recent spate of robberies on and around campus weighing heavily on the minds of any student stepping out after dark, Williams, a Marshall alumnus, offered his assurances to the Marshall community that city leadership is committed to their safety.

“I know what (students’) parents are thinking,” Williams said. “Understand, I’m a parent, too, and when their children are here, we’re going to make blessed sure we’re going to do everything to let moms and dads know that we’re taking care of their babies.”

Williams and city officials took a tour of the outlying areas around campus Wednesday evening as part of the city’s “Walk With the Mayor” initiative, visiting areas students often travel through after dark, including 4th and 6th avenues. With the university drawing much of its students from rural backgrounds, Williams noted how Huntington is often a student’s first encounter with living in an urban environment and the problems that come with it.

“It’s bigger than what most students have experienced elsewhere,” Williams said. “We’re a metropolitan area and we have the issues that come with that. But we’re also a small town, and with that our students have direct access to their mayor.”

City officials were joined by Marshall President Jerome Gilbert, who noted the university must teach students to be aware of their surroundings while also doing what they can to make their surroundings safe.

Although the majority of muggings have happened off-campus, the Marshall University Police Department’s force of 22 covers the vast majority of downtown Huntington, not to mention coverage by Huntington police, Cabell County sheriff’s deputies and West Virginia State Police troopers. While increased police patrols around campus are an immediate fix, Gilbert said the university will look at better lighting options at night and trimming back landscaping obstructing vision. The university also offers a 24-hour on-campus courtesy escort for students.

Gilbert, citing FBI statistics from 2014, stated Huntington is markedly safer than the state’s similarly sized cities. He added that the issues that have arisen around Marshall are problems facing any city of any size.

“I think it’s an awareness issue,” Gilbert said. “I think there have been a few issues here recently, but we’re working with the police department in town and our police to be more aware of our surroundings and make sure we provide a safe environment for our students.”

Williams agreed that campus safety has as much to do with student awareness as anything.

“If you’re out at 3 or 4 in the morning, you’re likely to encounter people who aren’t necessarily looking to go get a Pepsi,” he added.

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