UF Students Protest for Blue Lights on Fraternity Row

The student’s safety is the priority at a university, hence why there are blue light installations on many campuses nationally. Blue emergency phones are tall structures that illuminate blue and have a button to alert the police department to the student’s location in case of any emergency. These are especially useful when running away from someone, when experiencing sexual assault, or even if your car breaks down.

While there are over 300 blue lights on UF campus, there are none on Fraternity Row.

Since the denial of the blue lights resolution in April, the fight for blue lights continued, culminating in a protest on Tuesday afternoon in Flavet Field.

In April 2019, many students spoke against the UF Student Government Senate for voting against the Student Senate Bill 2019-1061, which recommended the installation of blue lights along and adjacent to Fraternity Drive. 

Student Senate Bill 2019-1061, or the “Blue Light Bill,” was denied because the writers of the resolution had not contacted the fraternity presidents for their agreements on the installation of blue lights, according to Senator Macey Wilson on the meeting on April 16.

Over the summer, Alfredo Ortiz, a 19-year-old UF philosophy sophomore, brought his friends together and suggested a protest for blue lights on Fraternity Row.

Even though Ortiz said he only believed 300 people would be interested, he was surprised to see that about 1,700 people marked that they were interested in the Facebook group.

Ortiz said he was inspired to organize a protest because he was there when the bill failed in the Senate in April. He said he knew the extent of student government’s influence because of a bill he had led previously for Hurricane Maria refugees, such as himself, to get in-state tuition had passed.

“When I saw the potential the resolution had to promote a discussion and when I saw it fail, I got really upset,” Ortiz said. “I want people to have the same experience of a student government that supports them. I want to do whatever I can to facilitate the expansion of campus safety.”

About 300 people, mostly wearing blue, participated in the protest at 4:30 p.m. Signs hung on the fences of Flavet Field or were held by protestors. 

After the Facebook group was formed for the blue lights protest, students questioned whether the motives of the protest were hostile against Greek life or against student government, but Ortiz denied that statement.

“This isn’t against student government, this isn’t against the frats, this isn’t anything like that,” Ortiz said. “This is a protest for blue lights and that’s all; that’s the extent we intend.”

Each of the different students involved in the protest have different purposes serving the cause. Alia DeLong, 30,  a third-year interdisciplinary ecology Ph.D student and member of the National Women’s Liberation chapter in Gainesville, got involved in the protest because of the alleged sexual assaults that have occurred on Fraternity Row.

“My role in this movement is to win rights for women, and this falls under that category, especially because women do not have access to blue lights on Fraternity Row,” DeLong said.

DeLong hosted a sign making party on Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. in the National Women’s Liberation office on 200 NE 1st St. About 20 people went to the event, in which the liberation had provided all the materials such as posters and markers.

DeLong, the first speaker presented for the protest, shared her insight on women’s need for accessible safety mechanisms.

Samantha Gildea, a 20-year-old international studies and Russian studies sophomore, worked as a graphic designer for the protest, creating flyers to pass out at Turlington Plaza.

Two organizers, Gildea and Emily Hyden, are sisters of Pi Beta Phi, the only sorority located on Fraternity Row.

“It is scary to walk home from dinner,” Gildea said. “It’s not just a women’s issue, it’s not just a Greek issue, it is a health and safety issue. We are just here to ensure that people in general on campus are safe, and I really could feel a lot safer with a blue light.”

Gildea justified her fear of walking alone on Fraternity Row through a study by The Tab that was released on Sept. 7, 2017. This study presented maps indicating the areas of UF with high numbers of sexual assault. The map showed noticeable patterns around Fraternity Row.

The results stated 33% of sexual assault cases occurred on Fraternity Row and 58% were reported from dorms. However, the dorms that had the most common reports were in locations neighboring Fraternity Row, such as Springs Complex and Keys Complex.

Another study regarding sexual assault was shared in UF news in Sept. 21, 2015. This study, conducted by the Association of American Universities, involved a voluntary survey distributed to 12,000 randomly selected students at UF in April 2015.

With about 2,000 students responding to the survey, the survey results stated that one in five UF female undergraduate students said they experienced some type of sexual assault at UF.

During the Tuesday march down Fraternity Row, protesters were urged by officials to stay on the sidewalk and were led in their chants by organizers.

Hyden, one of the leaders that ran back and forth through the crowd to lead the chants during the protest, spoke to the UF Student Government Senate on September 10 to formally announce the protest.

“It’s a shame that it has come to this point,” Hyden said in her speech to the UF Student Government Senate. “There are real lives, real students, and real people that have been disservices by the inaction that has led us to this point. There is no excuse now to delay action any further.”

Not long after, the UF Interfraternity Council released an official statement about the protest, in which the president, Tyler J. Enright, asked protesters to respect their chapter facilities.

“There are no active chapter presidents or chapter bodies that are opposed to the installation of additional blue lights anywhere on our campus,” Enright said in his statement. “Our council leadership is not, has not been, and will not be directly involved in any Student Government decisions or conversations. Our council stands together as a whole in supporting the safety and well-being of all students on our campus.”

The fraternity members in their respective houses peeked out their window or glanced upon the crowd of protesters marching past. 

The Panhellenic Council also came forward with a statement. The council’s president, Julia Van de Bogart, discussed their support for women and concern for their safety on campus.

“The Panhellenic Council at the University of Florida has taken proactive steps to help support women and will continue to be advocates for safety and security on our campus,” Bogart said in her statement. “Panhellenic supports each member’s right to choose what they engage in on our University of Florida campus.”

After these statements from the primary organizations of concern came out regarding the blue lights protest, UF Student Body President Michael Murphy came out to The Alligator with a letter to the editor two days before the protest. Murphy said in his letter that students are misinformed because student government already funds the GATORSAFE app for student safety.

“Installing additional blue lights on campus would be a tremendous waste of student fees,” Murphy said in the letter. “It is my goal that all students are aware of all of the safety programs working to keep them safe.”

Anthony Rojas, a UF graduate student, responded to Murphy’s statements on Tuesday with another letter to the editor on The Alligator, which refuted many of Murphy’s points.

“Michael Murphy interestingly enough failed to provide any actual data on [the blue lights] use at UF,” Rojas said in the statement. “Let’s keep in mind that this is the same organization that… spent roughly $20,000 on their own end-of-the-year banquet. This money also came from SG funds which consist primarily of student fees. Sexual assault on college campuses should never be talked about in terms of money wasted.”

Hyden also responded to Murphy’s statement on both Facebook and through The Alligator, saying the letter was disrespectful and that Murphy does not keep in mind that mobile phones are unreliable.

“If you are ever in a scenario where you cannot use your phone, you cannot use GATORSAFE,” Hyden said on the post. “Emergency protection regardless of accessibility to a mobile phone is necessary for all areas of campus. Fraternity Row is no exception, and never should have been.

At the end of the hour-long march, protesters cheered as the leaders emphasized that action must be taken.

Sophomore Christina Biferie-Pugliese, who was involved in the original drafting and presentation of the bill denied by student government, spoke at the protest as well.

“The actions that you do here today will help freshmen, will help sophomores, juniors, seniors, will help a generation of students,” Biferie-Pugliese said. “That blue light isn’t going anywhere once we leave here today.”