Being a good neighbor: Universityof Puget Sound as a public park

Riley, a good boy who often visits campus, playfully romps about on Todd Field instead of posing for a photo. Photo Credit: Andrew Benoit

By Sam Gerrish

If you take a walk from one end of campus to the other, especially on a sunny day, there’s a good chance you’ll run into someone walking a dog, pushing a stroller, or jogging. Many of these people aren’t directly affiliated with the University but instead access campus from the surrounding North End neighborhoods.

While the campus is officially private property, it is open to the public. This policy is common practice on college and University campuses, allowing them to serve as outdoor spaces not only for their faculty, staff, and student body, but for the surrounding community. In other words, they become unofficial public parks.

The permeable nature of campus might worry some, but it isn’t considered a significant security issue. “It doesn’t present a particular security concern for us, as long as the people that are on campus are following the rules and abiding by the code of conduct that the University has established,” said Greg Lynch, assistant director of security services.

24/7 Security patrols around campus seem to help deter those with harmful intent, and students tend to find that security is responsive and that they feel physically safe walking around campus. “I feel pretty safe on campus. It did take me a while to get there, like I feel like you’re a little bit more unsure, like the first two years, and then you kind of get used to the space and it doesn’t seem as big. But yeah, I fortunately have never had a problem and then I’ve never had to use the blue light, but I feel like it would be relatively responsive,” said Liz Rasmussen (‘23).

Some students point out the faults in the blue-light system — the emergency alarm stations located around campus. “Here’s the deal: blue lights are not well scattered, I don’t think. And they’re like, permanently out of order, though there’s some that say ‘temporarily’ out of order,” said Rachel Becker (‘23).

Of the occasional issues that arise between security, the student body, and outside community members, the most common aren’t even about people — they are about dogs. It’s true that the majority of dogs brought to campus are leashed, but some certainly aren’t. The official policy for animals on campus states that: “in accordance with applicable laws and ordinances, any Pet brought to Campus must be restrained on a leash no more than 8 feet in length.” However, enforcement of this policy seems to depend on the unleashed dog’s behavior. Generally, it’s only when a dog is reported that the situation is addressed. “I’d say probably only a few times a year that we actually have to approach somebody about an animal,” said Lynch.

Most students seem unbothered by this– other than having to dodge the occasional pile of dog poop that a negligent pet owner hasn’t picked up — and enjoy the canine presence on campus. “I don’t realize just how much I’m missing people and animals. And then I see a dog and I’m like, oh wait a minute, I can connect with people. And then feel so much better,” said Becker.

North End community member Debra Sankovitz feels similarly when it comes to interactions between her dogs and University students. Sankovitz moved to the area a little over a year ago, with her two poodles — Ida and Maevis. Campus is the ideal place for her to bring them, and she finds herself walking them here more often than not. “I have two dogs that are motivated by different experiences and I find both of them on campus,” she said. Maevis loves to play fetch, and Ida loves human interaction. Sankovitz is happy for students to engage with Ida. “Whenever I’m walking around, students tend to come up, pet her, say hi to her, and interact with her, and so I feel like I’m meeting the needs of both of my dogs. Whereas, you know, whenever I just walk them on the streets, that doesn’t happen,” she said.

Interactions between people and dogs aren’t always positive, and Sankovitz is conscientious of this. “I do know that there are some people that are uncomfortable with dogs. And I never, ever would want to create a situation where somebody was uncomfortable,” she said.

Senior Elizabeth Hennessey, who has a service dog, spoke to the potential dangers of unleashed dogs that are not under the control of their owners. “People have let their dogs come up, and one of them has actually attacked my dog, which not only puts him at risk but it puts me at a lot of risk too, as someone with a chronic illness,” she said. Fortunately, after speaking with security about that particular encounter, she has not seen the person or their dog on campus again.” That made me feel a lot safer, and it made me feel like I was being heard by the University about my nervousness about accommodating my special needs,” she said.

Another issue students feel passionate about is the campus bubble. Being a good neighbor is not just about welcoming community members onto campus. It is also important for students and faculty to get out into the broader community. Hennessey is a Tacomite herself, but didn’t grow up in the North End. “I would say that this is a very ethnically, racially isolated area of Tacoma. And so, if people come here for college and they stay around this campus or stay in the North End the whole time, they’re not experiencing Tacoma,” she said. Rasmussen agreed, “it’s only half the picture of us being truly engaged with the wider community.”

Liz Collins, community liaison officer for the University, is the person of contact for outside community members, but also works to get members of the university community off campus and into Tacoma, well beyond the North End. “It’s important to enrollment. It’s important to our mission that we continue to be involved in the community,” she said. She also feels that having campus open to the public is the right thing to do. “We have the privilege of being here in this beautiful place, and why wouldn’t we welcome people?” she said.

Greg Lynch agreed: “Generally speaking: we’re welcome, we’re open, and we love to engage with them.”

So does Sankovitz, who said, “My dogs have gotten to know a few of the kids on campus so they just get so excited whenever they see them. So, I don’t know, it just feels like it’s a mutually good thing.”