Students came together and held candles at Quarry Plaza in response to the recent violence on and around campus. Photo by Daniel Green
Students came together and held candles at Quarry Plaza in response to the recent violence on and around campus. Photo by Daniel Green

A spike in crime in the Santa Cruz community have left many students and residents in a state of shock and fear.

On the evening of Feb. 9, a Santa Cruz local was fatally shot near the Red bar and restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz in what was said to be a gang-related drive-by. A few days later on Feb. 11, a UC Santa Cruz student was robbed and shot in the back of the head while waiting for a bus near Natural Bridges. While many students were away for the long weekend, a visitor to the UCSC campus was assaulted and raped near the Quarry Amphitheater and Classroom Units on Feb. 17. The rape and assault is still being investigated by both UCSC and Santa Cruz Police departments. Most recently, on Feb. 26, two detectives from the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) were shot and killed by a suspect they were attempting to question. The suspect was later killed in a firefight with other law enforcement officers.

Recent efforts to establish safety include a Campus Safety Forum, held on campus Feb. 20, followed by a student-organized candlelight vigil in the Quarry Plaza, as well as several Assault Prevention Workshops at OPERS.

Campus Safety Forum

Among those who attended the Campus Safety Forum were Vice Chancellors Sarah Latham and Alison Galloway, UCSC Chief of Police Nader Oweis, Deputy Chief for SCPD Steve Clark, dean of students Alma Sifuentes and other members of the Santa Cruz community.

During the forum, Oweis and Clark discussed measures they are taking to ensure the safety of students on campus. The Santa Cruz Police Department is offering rewards of $5,000 for tips leading to the arrest of the criminals. Police officers have been working overtime to have extra patrols on campus.

Deputy Chief Clark said the reward money and the pay for the extra patrol hours took quite a chunk of the police department’s budget, but that it was necessary. In addition, Oweis said that all of the reward money comes straight from the budget.

In addition to the extra patrols, Oweis and UCSC’s Community Safety Program have introduced the Night Safety Escort Service, providing escorts to students who would otherwise be walking alone late at night.

Samantha Berlant, a volunteer for SAFE, recited a monologue to increase rape awareness at the Safe in the Dark: Reclaiming Our Space candlelight vigil. Photo by Daniel Green
Samantha Berlant, a volunteer for SAFE, recited a monologue to increase rape awareness at the Safe in the Dark: Reclaiming Our Space candlelight vigil. Photo by Daniel Green

Candlelight Vigil

Shortly after the campus safety forum, a candlelight vigil titled “Safe in the Dark: Reclaiming Our Space,” was held a short distance away from where the forum took place. Over 200 people huddled together in the cold at the student-organized vigil to listen to students perform spoken word poems, songs and speeches in honor of victims of violence.

The Facebook invite page for the vigil accumulated over 4,000 invites and over 1,000 confirmations in under 48 hours. Cynthia Friedman, who helped organize the event, said the rapid response to the event signified the importance of coming together as a community.

“Part of the event is to not let fear in. Even if you’re afraid, you have to make goals to not be afraid and to stand up against it,” said Cynthia Friedman, fourth-year linguistics and feminist studies major. “If the whole UCSC community is against violence, anyone who wants to try it has so much to fight against.”

The spoken word verses heightened the sense of community by delivering messages of perseverance for victims of rape and sexual assault. Members of the Sexual Assault Facts & Education program, a program at Student Health Outreach and Promotion which provides support, information and resources to survivors of sexual violence, also performed skits to help students defend themselves against sexual assault.

Dean of students Alma Cifuentes also urged students to take advantage of the resources on campus like the Women’s Center and the Counseling and Psychological Services.

Darryl Trinidad attended the forum and performed a spoken word poem at the vigil. He said the news of the rape left him in shock and fear.

“I’m trying not to let this fear overwhelm me because I feel like we should feel safe in our own space,” Trinidad said. “We need to be aware and we need to empower ourselves.”

Assault Prevention Workshops

Self-defense instructor Leonie Sherman offered advice and other assault prevention and response tips to her 32 students during a Feb. 26 Assault Prevention and Self-Defense Class, held from 4:45–6:30 p.m. in the East Field House Activity Room of The Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS). The class was one of two held specifically for those who identify as female.

OPERS sent out an email Feb. 21 notifying UCSC students, faculty and staff of their ability to participate in this series of free workshops.The class began with students circling up to discuss verbal prevention strategies. Sherman said the simple word “no,” when said in a deep voice can alter the mindset of a potential assailant.

Students learned how to say “no” in a way that shows the assailant “no” rather than only telling it, by using the diaphragm to speak in a deep and commanding tone.

After the 32 female students spent a minute roaring their most commanding “no,” Sherman taught them how to fight back after “no” doesn’t work.

Sherman instructed students in a three-step motion to fight back against an assailant. While simple, Sherman insisted that this motion be committed with the same intensity in which the “no” was roared.

“Even if you were fighting some 6-foot-4-inch mutant, you could still kick their kneecap effectively,” Sherman said.

In the ready position, the defendant stands with his or her stronger leg forward. For step one, step forward with the weaker leg. In step two, bring the strong leg up and kick forcefully at the kneecap of the assailant. In the vital step three, recoil the foot after impacting the kneecap. After these steps, step back and return to the ready position.

After practicing the three-step kick on martial arts pads, each student went on to learn universally vulnerable points of the body to retaliate against such as the groin, eyes and nose.

A Community Effort

These various efforts on the part of UCSC Chief of Police Nader Oweis, the rest of the campus and city police departments and self-defense instructor Leonie Sherman aim to ensure that residents of Santa Cruz can feel safe on campus and in their own town. The candlelight vigil also aimed to stand as a symbol of the community’s resilience and solidarity in facing down the recent rise in violent crime.

“This is a time for our community to come together because we really need to take care of one another,” said Chief of Police Nader Oweis. “Officers from the city, our parking enforcement and our [Campus Security Officers] are all doing extra patrols and extra checks and we are working very well together to make sure everyone’s staying safe.”