Nov. 20, 1997
Vol. 17, No. 5

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    Adapting to city life

    Student urges peers to play it safe on the streets

    By Jennifer Vanasco
    News Office

    Last year, Jamie O'Connell, a second-year student in the College, attended all the official safety meetings on campus, read every word of Common Sense and followed all the safety advice given by her father, a sergeant in the Chicago Police Department. Yet she noticed that most of her fellow students didn't do any of those things, and that they tended to disregard safety advice.

    "Most students don't come to meetings, they don't pay attention, they're not aware of their surroundings," O'Connell said. "They think that nothing will happen to them."

    But O'Connell, who grew up in Chicago, knows that in a city, particularly a city the size of Chicago, some crime is inevitable. She decided to start an organization that would prepare students to be safe while walking around the city and would introduce students to community members who are working to reduce crime.

    The result is Peace of Mind, a registered student organization established last month. The group has had 75 students sign up, although only 12 members have become actively involved so far.

    Still, the group is off to a good start, O'Connell said. Already, Peace of Mind members have become court advocates, accompanying community members who are victims of crimes to the courtroom. "We want to let the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney and everyone in that courtroom know that the victim is part of a community. We're all part of a community and we look out for each other."

    Peace of Mind members have also started to attend community meetings hosted by the Chicago Police Department and are working with the South East Chicago Commission and the Office of the Dean of Students in the University. "We've talked with people about how students can get involved in making the community safer for everyone. But we'd love to have more students contribute their time and ideas," O'Connell said.

    "University of Chicago students are very bright," she added. "By working with community members, they can help create solutions to the crime that occurs in Hyde Park."

    One example, she said, is the crime that Kenwood Academy students sometimes face when they leave their campus to go to lunch. O'Connell plans to meet with Kenwood's principal about the possibility of Peace of Mind members speaking to Kenwood students about ways they can be safer when walking around the city.

    "The more students get involved with the community, the more neighbors we meet, the more police officers we know, the stronger we'll become as a community," O'Connell said.

    One of the main goals of Peace of Mind's members is to talk regularly with their peers on campus about safety issues. O'Connell said that many times students are afraid to talk about issues of crime and safety, either because they're fearful of offending someone or because they don't want to consider the possibility of a crime happening to them.

    Eventually, O'Connell would like safety representatives in all of the residence hall who could bring house safety issues to Peace of Mind's attention. O'Connell and other members already have begun visiting houses in the dorms to explain why students should take safety precautions. "Students don't just travel in Hyde Park. They go to the shops downtown and on the North Side, they take public transportation. I don't think we should restrict ourselves from doing what we want to do -- I just think we should know how to do it safely." For more information about Peace of Mind, contact Jamie O'Connell at 834-6743 or at jeoconn@midway.uchicago.edu.