The house is unfamiliar, filled with no-name faces. It’s dark and stuffy inside, bodies stacked up against one another, the music is loud and the air is thick. Go outside and you’re on the street, trying to remember the way home, but can’t. Your ride left somewhere between beer number three and eight and now you’re stranded, weighing your options. Pull out your cell phone and dial. The Functional Immediate Response to Student Safety Team is waiting to answer your call.
Known as FIRSST, the Functional Immediate Response to Student Safety Team is built off of the initiative to create a safe, reliable environment for students to turn to in situations that pose potential threat to their safety.
“I know people who drive home drunk every weekend,” says Goshen College senior Jesse Quintanilla.
Driving under the influence, or riding with someone under the influence, is a scenario which FIRSST hopes to deplete through the development of a system called the Safety Shuttle. The shuttle is a preventative effort, creating a safe and anonymous option for students to turn to.
Goshen College’s Student Senate organized student discussion groups fall semester of last year to brainstorm possible student action in the prevention and awareness of sexual violence. After several meetings, students invited to participate in the discussion groups branched out from Student Senate and formed the Functional Immediate Response to Student Safety Team under the faculty guidance of Kendra Yoder, assistant professor of social work at GC.
The invitation for student participation in the FIRSST initiative was extended to the entire student body. Since the start of the group in 2014, FIRSST has had anywhere from three to 60 students attend the biweekly meetings.
The major initiative implemented by FIRSST is the “Safety Shuttle.” It was determined by the group that most incidents of sexual violence occur when individuals at parties are under the influence. From this spawned the idea to create a form of transportation offered to students who are unable to make it safely back to their room as result of being under the influence.
The Safety Shuttle is directly linked to a hot-line that is activated every Friday evening at 9:30 p.m., running throughout the night. The hot-line is then turned on again Saturday night beginning at 9:30 p.m. and running through to the following morning. The line is monitored by two student volunteers all night long who, upon receiving a call, will drive to the location of the caller. The volunteers may ask the caller to meet them at a nearby location, or stand outside of the building if unfamiliar with the location. The volunteers will escort the caller all the way back to their floor. As of now, the transportation vehicle is provided by one of the Safety Shuttle volunteers.
The Safety Shuttle is available to anyone who calls; however, the drivers reserve the right to ask passengers to exit the vehicle at any given time per the escort’s discretion. If the passenger becomes violent or disruptive, either verbally or physically, they may be asked to exit the vehicle. Also, though it is intended as a form of transportation for those under the influence, if it is suspected that the caller has alcohol poisoning, the Safety Shuttle volunteers will be unable to provide the caller with a ride to the hospital. This is due to liability issues.
The shuttle is confidential, with no involvement from outside authorities, and, according to some students, has been a success thus far in the half-year that the Safety Shuttle program has been operative.
“Its a good idea because you may not have any idea where you are. You know someone is going to get you back safely,” says Tori Miller, a sophomore.
But not all students are certain about the overall effectiveness of the Safety Shuttle.
“I think that in general the idea is good, but I think that, one, the Safety Shuttle hasn’t communicated enough what it is, and I think people will be to afraid to call. I don’t think students know they won’t get caught or looked down upon….. they also might abuse the program,” says Ashley Brugh, a sophomore. “But even so, if nine people use it just because they want a ride home, but one uses it because they really need it, it’s worth it.”
The big question for the Safety Shuttle program is, do students know how to get the information if they need it. Austin Rook. a first-year, says that he doesn’t know much about the program itself, but he knows where to find the information.
“If I need to [call], I know how to get the number for it,” says Rook. “It’s in my hall.”
Among the safety team members is Sarah Hofkamp, a junior, one of the initial group members who is now a lead organizer of the FIRSST initiative. Hofkamp says that FIRSST responders are aware that it may be uncomfortable for individuals to call on their fellow students to come and get them out of uncomfortable situations. But she says it is what the organization is there for, and it is not an inconvenience to be on the receiving end of an early morning weekend call. Hofkamp says that they expect and welcome those calls.
“We just don’t want anyone to feel guilty about it,” says Hofkamp. “It’s about being safe.”
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming involved with the FIRSST initiative or volunteering to become a Safety Shuttle driver, you can contact Sarah Hofkamp via email at email@example.com.