Safety on college and university campuses has garnered national attention in recent months, with the shooting at Florida State University and multiple campuses dealing with sexual assault, like Vanderbilt University and Columbia University. With these cases has come a heightened sense of the need for self-defense. While some students have access to self-defense skills, others want to pack tasers, but University of Tampa officials warn that weapons are not welcome.
Weapons intended for self-defense, including tasers, are forbidden at UT — even if you store them in your car or dorm room.
Among the banned items are tasers and firearms including BB guns, pellet guns and rifles, swords (decorative or real), bow and arrows, slingshots, martial arts weapons (like ninja throwing stars), hunting knives and darts.
“Chemical agents designed to be used as a personal protective device are permitted, but may be used only as a defensive weapon,” said Dr. Linda Devine, vice president for operations and planning. Chemical agents include mace and pepper spray.
Devine and Campus Safety Director Kevin Howell said ROTC members, campus safety and training corps members may have a firearm or weapon, but only when they are using it for training or official duties. Police officers on campus may also possess a firearm.
While firearms are currently banned, Florida House Bill 4005 (HB 4005), which would allow college students to carry concealed firearms, has passed the Criminal Justice Subcommittee of Florida’s House. This bill, if passed, would not apply to private institutions like UT, but would apply to public schools in the area, including University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College, Florida State University and University of Florida, among others, according to the measure. The bill would still have to go through several other committees before passing, and, if passed, would become effective July 1, 2015.
“Just, no. Absolutely no,” said Maria DesRocheres, a sophomore ad PR communications major when asked about HB 4005.
For many UT students, the ban on weapons is a relief, especially in light of November’s FSU shooting.
“I would not feel safe knowing that students are carrying guns with them. Accidents do happen and innocents get hurt,” said Giannina Vallas, a junior nursing major. “I feel safe on campus.”
Like Vallas, some students feel that campus is a safe place but think it is necessary to keep self-defense items for when they go off campus.
“I walk with a group when I go off campus,” DesRocheres said. “But there are some creepy men around and we are like prey [off campus]. I would only feel safe if we had a
taser, or maybe karate lessons, at night off campus.”
The campus crime statistics provided by the UT website report three forcible sexual offenses, three robberies (all reportedly off campus), two stalking offenses and two incidents of domestic violence in 2013. Those numbers would indicate ten of the university’s 7,752 students (according to the UT website University Profile) or 0.13 percent of UT students were victims of those crimes.
However, 20 crimes including theft, robbery, theft of an automobile and home burglary have been reported within a quarter of a mile of campus since August, according to the Tampa Police Department. In the 2014-15 school year so far, six crimes involving theft and auto theft have required police assistance on campus at UT. Additionally, 12 known sexual offenders have been reported as living or staying less than one mile from the university in the last month, according to the Tampa Police Department RAIDS Online crime tracker.
UT students have received 11 emails so far in the 2014-15 school year from campus security reporting muggings and sexual assaults off campus. Students are warned in the emails how to keep themselves safe by staying in groups and are encouraged to report any incident off campus to campus security.
When you add the average of 25 weekly incidents — including robbery, theft, and assault, reported by the Tampa Police Department within 2 miles of the campus gates — with the campus security incidents, some students have been forced to consider how they can defend themselves.
One option, aside from carrying a small mace or pepper spray, is to take self-defense courses. UT does not condone violence of any form and reports all violent incidents to the Tampa Police Department but encourages all students to be proactive with their self-defense, according to Devine and Howell.
“Campus Safety offers RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) courses that can be helpful. There are other community resources for similar education. If you can avoid being part of escalating situations, that’s always the best defense,” Devine said.
RAD classes are available at multiple locations throughout the year. A full schedule is on rad-systems.com. There are also self defense classes at COBRA Academy in Tampa, which teach not only physical but psychological aspects of self-defense.
If a UT student is found with a taser, firearm or other weapon on campus, he or she will be subjected to the campus student conduct processes. The outcome will vary based on the student’s behavioral history.
“I would be more scared with weapons on campus,” said Bri Mooney, a sophomore musical theatre and communications major. “I would be more scared someone would do something to me. I mean, what if someone was just playing around and wanted to tase someone?”
Devine warns that students — commuter or resident — need to follow the rule, saying “It is important to comply with university policy and state law.”
For more information on specific rules and laws, visit UT.edu/safety.
Krista Byrd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.