Parking Policy Threatens Student Safety

Jackie Brant, Opinions Editor

Upon my arrival to Oberlin as a first-year, I was told that the only designated parking areas for first-years are located next to Mercy Allen Hospital. First-years who park their cars anywhere else are subject to fines of up to $80, plus towing expenses. The fact that the only designated parking for newbies on campus is the farthest lot from campus and most first-year dorms is extremely disadvantageous to first-years.

The justification I was given by Safety and Security regarding the inconvenience of first-year parking was that it might discourage first-years from bringing cars to campus. For a college that is so focused on the environment and has limited parking, this would have been an acceptable justification — had I been informed of this policy before I arrived on campus for my first year. By the time the policy was made known to me, it was too late to discourage me from bringing a car — I could not simply bring my car back home to Houston.

The lot near Mercy Allen Hospital — far west from the main campus — is half a mile away from two of the three first-year dorms. The lot is also about half a mile from the Afrikan Heritage House and Burton Hall, two dorms that house a significant number of first-years as well.

It is counterintuitive to put first-years so far away from their new homes on a campus with which they are just getting familiar with. When I was a first-year, I started out so disoriented that I couldn’t make my way from the Knowlton Athletics Complex to Dascomb Hall, let alone a location so far away from any major campus buildings.

These problems are only exacerbated once the sun sets. On top of the out-of-the-way location, the street that takes you back to campus from the parking lot does not have adequate lighting. Oftentimes, I would worry about the trip I would have to take at night going to and from my car. I was so concerned that sometimes I would have a friend come with me because I did not want to be by myself in the dark. If I couldn’t find a friend, I would call one of my parents while I walked.

This situation poses a very real threat to students. Students walking to South Campus must cross the street from the parking lot to the other sidewalk. In the dark, this could be dangerous. The conditions make it difficult for drivers to see students crossing the street, which could lead to an accident. In the city of Oberlin, there are many instances of collisions involving cars and pedestrians or cars and bikers every year. These accidents show that a comparable incident could very easily occur on campus.

Furthermore, the lot’s location exposes students to the possibility of theft or sexual assault. On my walks to and from that lot, I rarely ran into anyone on the path. If I did, it was usually just a passing car. If something were to happen to a student on that walk, chances are that no one would be around to help them.

I felt so strongly about this issue as a first-year that I often parked in other lots, at the risk of accruing fines. After I did receive several tickets, I voiced my concerns to the College. The only answer I really received was that if I ever felt unsafe, I should call Safety and Security for a ride back to my dorm.

Using Safety and Security as a long-term solution presents a number of difficulties. Right off the bat, it is contradictory to the environmental protection efforts that Oberlin’s parking policy is supposedly aiming to enforce by using more gas to needlessly bus students around. Furthermore, being told to call Safety and Security for a ride if I feel unsafe is wrong for the same reasons that telling women to wear longer skirts to avoid sexual harassment is wrong. Why should I, a new student at an unfamiliar place, have to take extra measures simply to protect myself while doing a routine activity like walking back to my room? Is student safety not worth a proactive approach to potentially dangerous situations?

I admit, solving this problem seems to be a difficult task. It does not appear that much land remains near central campus with which to make a new first-year parking lot. I also understand that parking regulations are in place to comply with agreements by the city and College, environmental sustainability policies, to manage the College’s existing lots.

Despite these challenges, I urge the College to make the effort to reevaluate the parking situation for first-years in order to better prioritize their safety.