Senator Meera Balan Talks Campus Lighting Petition

By Adrian Keller Feld and Rowan Horowitz

Senator Meera Balan announced a petition for lighting on campus in the September 10 issue of SB Info, which has prompted significant debate in the weeks since. Many people have expressed strong opposition to the petition, both in person and most loudly in the Missed Connections, prompting Senator Balan to explain more in depth what exactly she is petitioning for. 

In an interview with the Quest, Senator Balan explained that the idea for increased lighting on campus came about last school year when earlier winter sunsets left some students feeling unsafe, saying, “A lot of my friends who were femme-presenting or who were smaller, we used to call our masc-presenting friends to come and walk us back from the library, and it became this issue of like ‘hey, we need someone to walk us back because we don’t feel safe.’” 

After discussing with other members of the Reed community, including professors and Night Owls, Senator Balan began to see how widespread the issue was, with people reporting tripping in the dark, or being followed and chased. She explained that while lighting would not reduce crime, it would rather make people feel safer, and reduce the risk of tripping especially on the often wet paths on campus. She stressed that, “when things are well-lit, people feel safe. You don’t feel safe walking down a dark corridor but when you see a couple of lights, you’re more willing to go through that.”

Senator Balan responded to the most common MC complaints, particularly a misconception that she wished to install lighting in the canyon, saying, “I want to take away this whole myth that I’m going to put a glowstick in the Canyon.” Instead, lighting would be installed around academic buildings on the far edge of campus, away from the Canyon and dorms. 

Senator Balan and Director of Community Safety Gary Granger surveyed the area at night to identify places where extra lighting could be implemented, including around Eliot, Vollum, the Studio Art building, ETC, and Greywood. In addition, the lights installed would not be lampposts, but rather pathway lights embedded in the ground — motion activated circle lights in the pavement. The hope would be that increased lighting to these areas would allow students walking at night to see other people, see shadows, and avoid stumble hazards. Additionally, the lights would not be paid for by Senate or student body funds, as the issue is on a more institutional level, requiring not just approval by student government but also by multiple Reed departments and the city, as it is a construction project.

Because of how contentious the issue is –  many students have opinions they do not feel comfortable sharing them except under the condition of anonymity – Senator Balan has personally received a lot more backlash than she expected, having people come to her in person, visibly upset. She said, “there’s a difference between not liking a policy and not liking a person, and I don’t want those two things to be conflated.” 

In terms of student opinion, one anonymous student expressed their hesitancy at the idea of more lighting, saying, “Light pollution is already a problem, especially in a big city like Portland. There is already a large amount of lampposts on campus, and those who feel uncomfortable should just refrain from staying out late at night or bring more powerful flashlights.” 

While other students took a more moderate or even favorable approach to the petition, with one stating, “more lighting around campus buildings would make me feel safer at night, though it would probably take away from some of the appeal of late night wanderings. But overall I think it would be a good idea, since a lot of people have to walk back to their dorms after dark and such.” 

Another student said, “I feel like both sides have made valid and not-so-valid points, but I mostly think that wildlife and/or environmental experts should be consulted about the potential impact on the Canyon and campus wildlife before any decisions are made.” 

As mentioned in the Quest’s September 29 issue of “Senate Beat,” there may be a future Senate Public exploring the lighting petition, so students are encouraged to attend to learn more and contribute to the discussion. Senator Balan emphasized that the petition is a wide-ranging project, of which there is still much to be done, stating that it is “a conversation,” and that if students want to be a part of it, they can come to her office hours, Fridays 3:15 – 4:15 pm in the Greywood lounge, or they can reach out to her via email. The lighting petition also has a lot more behind it than just one student, with plenty of research and staff being involved in the ongoing process as well – it is very much not an overnight decision. At the time of writing, Senator Balan’s petition has around eighty signatures, and the process is still active, with students being encouraged to join the conversation, but to remember that it is a conversation, and to separate a person from a project.

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