GSC raises concerns about new security app for student use

Nov. 30, 2022, 11:49 p.m.

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) raised concerns that a proposed safety app for students from the Stanford University Department of Safety (SUDPS) would not offer substantial benefits to students at its Tuesday meeting.

Councilors also encouraged graduate students to fill out a survey on their expenses and transportation needs with the goal of informing the council’s efforts to advocate for University support for graduate students.

SUDPS Clery Compliance Coordinator and Program Coordinator Vince Bergado presented a security application called “SafeZone” that SUDPS plans to roll out for student use in January after the 2022–23 winter break. 

The app has been used by a number of students at other universities, a fact made apparent by details in the App Store feedback.

Key features of the app include what Bergado described as an accessible method to simultaneously dial 911 and alert SUDPS of a student’s location at the time of an emergency. Bergado said that if the user sending the alert was in the range of SafeZone’s location services, nearby SUDPS responders would be alerted and could promptly arrive at the scene.

For usage, SafeZone must be open on the student’s phone, according to Bergado. 

Council co-social chair and fourth-year electrical engineering Ph.D. Kavya Sreedhar raised a concern that exiting the app could require students to re-authenticate themselves when returning to the app, which would increase the number of steps required to alert emergency services, thereby potentially putting the student’s safety in jeopardy.

Other related concerns were also brought up by the councilors. 

Council treasurer Christie Chang, a third-year immunology graduate student in the School of Medicine, said that SafeZone was reported to drain phone batteries and its location services would not work when the mobile device was on battery-saving mode. These worries were also reported by users in App Store reviews

Some councilors were also apprehensive about the foreseeable impact that the app would have on the safety of students.

“I just really think that this type of engagement on an app is not what students — at least graduate students we’ve ever heard — have asked for. We’ve asked for public transit, better lighting, things that support students in the fact that an emergency is happening,” said Lawrence Berg, a fourth-year organic chemistry Ph.D. student and the council’s Faculty Senate representative.

Bergado responded by stating that there isn’t a single solution that can attend to all that stems from safety concerns, and SafeZone is just one option of which students can take advantage.

Undergraduate student Cayla Withers ’24, an undergraduate senator, spoke to the GSC about a resolution that would bridge the gap in fundamental STEM skill sets and knowledge that exists between students that come from well-resourced and under-resourced high schools.

On-ramp courses aim to prepare students who come from underserved backgrounds for the usual course series that could be subsequently taken. Withers said the On-ramp PHYSICS 40 “Vector and Mathematical Analysis for Mechanics” course she previously took provided helpful foundations in physics. Her resolution would allow On-ramp classes to be available in all STEM departments. 

“These On-ramp STEM courses would level the playing field at the university because there are students who come from under-resourced schools that don’t have the previous knowledge that they need to succeed,” Withers said. “This contributes to the high failure rates in a lot of the STEM classes, because in a lot of these STEM classes, a lot of students fail and just decide that STEM is not for them.” 

Councilors also discussed a recent social event and proposed opportunities to raise participation amongst graduate students in the expenses survey. 

GSC co-social chair Leslie Luqueño M.A. ’22, a third-year education Ph.D. student, said the Thanksgiving Dinner received overall positive feedback. Attendance was opened up to a number of postdoctoral and undergraduate students in addition to the initial graduate student population.

Luqueño also emphasized a desire to see if future Thanksgiving Dinner events could become “a collaboration with different offices on campus to make it a more sustainable event that doesn’t just entirely fall on the social chairs or the student council in general.”

The council has been planning for an “Expenses Survey Fill Out Party” to encourage graduate students to provide feedback on their expenses. Dinner would be provided as an incentive for attendance, the councilors said.

Councilors stressed that it was important students fill out the survey as it would provide the University with data about how graduate students are faring with their living expenses. 

The GSC also discussed the contents of a recent Stanford Transportation email sent to graduate students.

The email included a graphic of a jar containing a number of transportation perks provided by the University. It also linked to a list of Stanford community input about how they’ve taken advantage of campus transportation. 

Although the email did specify that the feedback was gathered from the “On the Move” readers, the councilors said that many of the mentioned benefits are things that have been “effectively stripped from [students].”

Stanford paused the Marguerite Shuttle program at the start of the pandemic, and when the shuttle was reinstated, certain lines, including the N, O, and late night lines that covered Campus Drive and routes to Caltrain stations, were not reinstated. Councilors have previously raised concerns that the loss of these routes has posed safety and convenience issues for some graduate students.

“Even though it might have been cutesy, even though it might have been an attempt by the transportation office to make something cute and harmless, that actually obfuscates the reality that these resources that we’re supposed to be grateful for don’t even exist,” said Council co-chair Emily Schell, a fourth-year developmental and psychological sciences Ph.D. student.

Kelly Wang is a writer for The Daily. Contact them at new 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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