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A UO History Lesson: Project Saferide

Project Saferide

Photo courtesy Oregon Daily Emerald

[Author’s note: I have been employed by both the Assault Prevention Shuttle and the Designated Driver Shuttle during my tenure at the University of Oregon, but I am no longer employed by either organization (or the incidental fee at all).]

From Friday’s Ol’ Dirty:

Students and faculty members who have used the Assault Prevention Shuttle lately probably noted a recent change to the program: It’s [sic] name.

According to a press release from the program, students and faculty members will soon begin to see the name Safe Ride replace its former one on its e-mail address and Web site. The name change has already begun to take the form of new signs that are visibly marked on the program’s vans.

Rachel Graham, Safe Ride’s co-director, said the program decided to change its name from the Assault Prevention Shuttle to Safe Ride amidst confused responses from students who did not know what the program’s purpose was.

“The name Safe Ride better exemplifies the mission of the program — to provide members of the University of Oregon community with a safe ride home,” Graham said in a prepared statement.

According to its Web site, Safe Ride currently uses four minivans and a 97-person staff base to provide an average of 70 people per night with a free ride to a destination near the University.

As I’m sure the APS co-directors know, the Assault Prevention Shuttle started as Project Saferide, a volunteer-based organization committed to preventing assault by employing female volunteers and staff members to give women free rides home. Indeed, Project Saferide stickers (which you can still see plastered in McKenzie Hall and EMU bathrooms) bear the motto, “Women Helping Women.”


Project Saferide was started in 1986 with the goal of preventing assault on women all over campus. As far back as 2001, and likely earlier, the group was operating via student incidental fees and ASUO recognition. For reference, the Designated Driver Shuttle received its first budget and commenced operations in 1995. (Ed. note: The DDS website hasn’t been updated since early 2007, and is hilarious.)

Saferide began receiving complaints regarding its women-only policy in the late eighties, ruling on multiple grievances by University of Oregon students. In December 1991, the ASUO Constitution Court ruled on the allegation that the program was in violation of Section 2.4 of the ASUO Constitution, which read:

Access to activities supported in whole or in part through mandatory student incidental fees shall not be denied for reasons of sex, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, marital status, handicap, political view, national origin, or any other extraneous considerations.

The case was called Hepner v. Project Saferide. From the April 3, 2000 issue of the Oregon Commentator (p. 17):

Project Saferide, the Petitioner contended, violated this rule by providing access to women exclusively, and asked the Court to require Saferide to open access to men or, failing that, defund the program. Like the Weck grievance, Hepner’s argued that men, like women, could feel unsafe at night, and that “allowing men access to Saferide would help destroy the stereotype that ‘all men are potential rapists.’”

In the unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Steven Briggs, the Court disagreed with both claims. “While certainly a man faces some danger on Eugene streets at night,” Briggs wrote, “at least in 1991, that danger is minimal.” In addition, though the stereotype that any man is a potential rapist is obviously incorrect, for “a woman walking down a street at night [who] sees a man
walking toward her, it is rational for her to believe that the man may be a potential rapist.” The Court felt no motivation to dispel this stereotype in its decision.

Furthermore, Justice Briggs ruled that including men would, in effect, exclude women: “Respondents argue that if men are allowed to ride in, or drive Saferide vans, women will be much less likely to use a service. The Court agrees. Whether or not any given male rider is a threat is irrelevant… The Court is therefore faced with the rare situation where allowing access for one group will effectively deny access to another group.” The fact of the matter is that ruling in Hepner’s favor would not ‘deny’ access to women in the least. While the proposition that a male element is inherently threatening was and is debatable, the question of whether women would be denied access is not. In the case of Hepner v. Project Saferide, the Constitution Court ruled in favor of the respondent.

In the same issue of the OC, managing editor Andrew Adams reports on a similar grievance filed by university student Aaron Weck during the 1999-2000 school year. Weck’s stated goal in filing the grievance was to urge Saferide to make changes in compliance with Title IX regulations lest they be open to legal action (p. 16):

Even though Weck filed the grievance with these complaints against Saferide in mind, he could not stress enough that his relationship with the organization is not contentious. The one-time student government official realized how someone could take a more vigorous and mean-spirited approach against Saferide to attack the service and have its funding revoked. He said he filed the grievance hoping that some agreement could be worked out where Saferide could still provide its service, but not have to worry about being the victim of lawsuits because of its exclusiveness.

“I brought [the grievance] forth to discuss it, I wanted to bring Saferide under compliance to head off any defunding grievance. I decided to take the blame, and try to save Saferide,” he said.

Under Title IX of the of the education amendments to the U.S. Civil Code equal services must be made available to every student regardless of the gender. If someone could successfully argue that Saferide violated Title IX it could be subject to losing its funding.

Weck dropped his grievance upon the Designated Driver Shuttle’s expansion of services to include those who were being denied rides from Saferide. But as expected, in 2001 a complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights regarding the Title IX allegations. From an October 2001 Emerald article:

Charges of gender discrimination filed against Project Saferide last year with the Office of Civil Rights are still “open and under investigation,” according to U.S. Department of Education OCR spokesman Rodger Murphey.

OCR received the complaint Jan. 31, Murphey said. Under the Privacy Act of 1972, the name of the person or persons who filed the complaint will never be released. […]

In March, the University received a letter written by Nicholas Rock, the OCR investigator in charge of the case. The letter said a complaint alleging gender discrimination had been filed against Saferide because only women can use the service and drive vehicles. […]

But there are several reasons why the service is open only to women, Fancher said.

One reason is that statistics show that the majority of sexual assault victims are women, while a majority of attackers are men, she said.

“Women are disproportionately the victims of violent crimes here on and around campus,” she said. “We’re not saying all men are rapists. But 90 percent of rapists are men.”

The women-only policy is intended to create a “safe space” for riders, many of whom use the service because they feel threatened by men when they walk, she said.

Teehee, safe space. Drink!*

Of course, women are not the only students who are at risk of assault, and if a program is paid for with incidental fees, it should be open to every student — in the case of the Assault Prevention Shuttle, as volunteers and riders. But for Debra Kester, the ASUO state affairs coordinator in 1985, the envisioned contributions from men were much more specific:

When the program was being put together, some asked what men could do to prevent rape instead of helping the program by driving. In response, Kester said men’s role in rape prevention is to “help provide the funding necessary for the shuttle service and provide education to others, particularly men, on the myth of rape.”

In the November 6, 2001 issue of the Oregon Commentator, contributor Philippe Cornet responds to this mindset (p. 9):

The biggest logical error of the feminist Saferide supporter is that by taking money from men to protect the women on campus, women still remain dependent on men for their safety. If a woman is truly to be liberated, she needs to realize that she is in the same dangerous world as her male counterparts and that the correct feminist response to danger is identical to a prudent male’s response to the situation at hand.

On October 25, 2001, University President Dave Frohnmeyer signed an agreement with the Office of Civil Rights saying he would deal with the gender discrimination problem in University ride services by March 29, 2002. From a November 1, 2001 Emerald article:

According to the agreement, “the University agrees to modify, as necessary, the eligibility criteria for using transportation services and for participating as a volunteer driver of such services to ensure such criteria do not include gender.”

University General Counsel Melinda Grier said although she was disappointed with OCR’s conclusions, she would work with Saferide coordinators and members of the ASUO to make the changes needed to comply with Title IX.

When asked whether the agreement would mean Saferide would be open to both genders, or if an alternative service offering rides to men would be started, Grier said she did not want to speculate on any possible outcome before discussing it with students.

“I was hoping that when the OCR looked at it, they would be satisfied with the program (as it is),” she said. “We’ll just work to get something that keeps both the spirit of the program and what students want, but is consistent with Title IX.”

What Grier and the administration came up with was NightRide, a program basically identical to Saferide with the only difference being ridership: Saferide remained open only to women, whereas NightRide was open to both men and women.** From a January 11, 2002 Emerald article***:

Night Ride coordinators hope the service will benefit groups of students who may feel unsafe on campus but who are either uncomfortable using Saferide or are not allowed to use the service, such as gay men, men of color and transgender individuals.

“It’s unfortunate that it took a ruling by OCR to force Saferide and people who support Saferide to start Night Ride,” she said. “But we believe what we’ve created in Night Ride is a very beneficial service.”

Night Ride, which will offer rides to groups of three or less by reservation, will operate in much the same way as Saferide, Fancher said. The Department of Public Safety has donated one van to the program; a second, wheelchair accessible van will be shared with Saferide, she said. […]

Incorporating Night Ride into Saferide would be difficult for practical reasons as well, she added, in part because Saferide is already a large program. Saferide gives an average of 70 to 80 rides per night, and operates three to four vans nightly, she said.

Although Night Ride has been recognized by the ASUO Executive as an official University program, it has yet to receive funding from the ASUO Programs Finance Committee. On Jan. 24, Night Ride directors will go before the PFC to ask for about $25,000 to fund the program, Fancher said. That amount is less than half the Saferide budget, she said. […]

Peter Watts, one of six senators who voted against the motion, said he questioned funding Night Ride because a nearly identical program, Saferide, already exists. Incorporating the program into Saferide would save student fee money without compromising the safety of female riders, he said.

In case it hasn’t been made clear yet, Saferide’s arguments for continuing to deny access to men were simple: they believed women would not take the service if men were allowed, and for many members of the student government, this was enough to allow the program to violate Title IX restrictions and continue to disallow service to men. Additionally, as Sen. Peter Watts mentioned in the article, Night Ride constituted a duplication of services, which is a big no-no when student government funding is concerned.

OC contributor (and later editor-in-chief) Tim Dreier agreed in the January 19, 2002 issue of the Oregon Commentator, where he is one of the first students to outwardly classify the Saferide-Night Ride dichotomy as segregationist:

The way in which the University has decided to alter its policy in order to comply [with the lawsuit ruling] is to establish Night Ride, a service for men. According to an article in the Oregon Daily Emerald on Friday, January 11, the Night Ride service hopes to serve gay men, men of color and transgender individuals. None of the quotes in the Emerald article makes mention of straight, white men. Don’t misunderstand, providing a service is fine, but that service should be available to all members of the student body. If the Night Ride service primarily seeks to serve gay men, black men, and transsexual men, it does not provide a service to most of campus. Saferide and Night Ride will both service different portions of the population, namely female and male, respectively; this is a conical example of “separate but equal” policy.

If a shuttle servicing system were proposed that would separate the vans for black and white people, the entire University would be up in arms. Night Ride and Saferide are the politically correct equivalent. Having two separate services creates unnecessary complications in funding and paperwork. In addition to being unneeded, separate services are just one more example of the politically correct thought police attempting to make issues out of nothing.

Regardless of the OC‘s opposition to the new program, the program was started under the wing of Saferide. From the Emerald on March 12, 2002:

Both Project Saferide and Night Ride operate in a three-mile, or 10-15 minute, driving radius around campus. Unlike other campus transit programs, both services take people door-to-door, allowing no room for potential attacks.

For now, Saferide directors are overseeing Night Ride and hiring staff. Once Night Ride is up and running, however, a staff separate from Saferide will take over the program, and both will have their own budgets. So far, Night Ride has one van donated by DPS. Rohter said the budget has been fully funded for next year by the ASUO.

During the following year’s budget process (January 21, 2003), Night Ride received its own budget of $32,098 from the Programs Finance Committee for operations costs (mostly payroll)****:

The group given the largest increase was Night Ride.

Night Ride is an assault prevention shuttle bus — similar to Project Saferide, which only transports women — that takes both men and women. Night Ride was given $32,098, much of which is allocated to payroll for the new group. In 2002, PFC funded Night Ride’s activities by combining its budget with Project Saferide and increasing that budget.

In fall of 2003, it was determined that even though Night Ride was a funded program, Project Saferide was still in violation of Title IX and was required to end its women-only policy. As such, the two programs decided to merge to create the Assault Prevention Shuttle. The Emerald article from October 6, 2003 addressing the issue is filled with words like “feminism” and “gender equality,” so I’ll try and relay only the most relevant parts:

After 18 years of safely transporting female students after dark, Project Saferide is closing its doors.

Now, men and women can look forward to riding together on the new Assault Prevention Shuttle, beginning Oct. 13. […]

In 2001, Night Ride was created as a counterpart to Saferide, available to both men and women. The Office of Civil Rights still found Saferide to be a gender-biased operation, which is illegal under Title IX.

Saferide co-Director Sarah Wells said that during the summer the agency told Saferide it needed to either shut down or accommodate men. The University junior said choosing to merge was a lot easier than just closing down the 18-year-old operation.

“It’s never easy to make this big of a change,” Wells said. “But it’s an exciting time for us — we can all work together to make a better, stronger organization.” […]

The Assault Prevention Shuttle will have a total of five vans and 16 dispatchers at its disposal, although there will be only four on duty per night. It will run the same hours as Saferide and Night Ride, but ASUO spokeswoman Taraneh Foster said that Assault Prevention Shuttle officials hope to expand its hours winter term. For now it will be running 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

“Logistically, the organization will be the same,” Wells said. “The only thing that’s changed is that it will be gender-neutral.”

Exactly. It had been the same organization the whole time. Both the Emerald and the Commentator ran editorials in support (p. 4) of the decision, but with one caveat: why didn’t they do this earlier?

From the Commentator on November 5, 2003:

SafeRide was a discriminatory, inappropriate program created out of guilt and operated on faulty assumptions and poor reasoning. Melinda Grier, the Universityʼs General Counsel, believed that creating the “separate but equal” program of Nightride would placate the OCR enough and allow SafeRide to continue its operation. She was wrong, and the OCR was correct in forcing SafeRide to begin taking men or shut down. There was more at stake here than the money that all students paid for SafeRideʼs existence. The principle of legal equality is constantly under attack from those who think that making up for past injustice is more important than consistent and logical interpretation of the law.

Operating a shuttle service on the basis that only women inherently feel threatened on campus may feel good, but it is neither legally nor ethically defensible to do such a thing. At best itʼs a well-meaning, if misguided, program. At worst itʼs a biased, illegal operation.

The incidental fee is collected as a tax on all students who come to this university. The same is true at other public universities and colleges across the nation, and the fee is designed to enhance the collegiate experience through providing all sorts of things in which students can become involved. By using the incidental fee to fund a program that is expressly closed to nearly half of the student body, SafeRide put itself in violation of the lawʼs letter and spirit.

Since the Assault Prevention Shuttle’s inception, there have been no similar legal problems. Indeed, the problems with free incidental fee-funded shuttles after this incident had to do with the Designated Driver Shuttle, but that’s a story for another day.

My point here, in addition to giving a short history of a highly-utilized service, is to point out a) the history of the name Safe Ride, and b) how little a name change matters when taking into account that history. What is more important is preserving the rights of incidental-fee paying students: if you pay for it, you can receive access to it*****.

So as long as Safe Ride continues to allow all incidental-fee paying to get rides home, they can call themselves whatever they want.

*Another gem from this article: “University General Counsel Melinda Grier, who handles complaints made against the University, did not return the Emerald’s calls by press time.” Damn, some things really never change.

**Some may say this duplication of services still exists with the Assault Prevention Shuttle Safe Ride and the Designated Driver Shuttle operating simultaneously. I do not believe our current situation to be the same as it was in the early 2000s. The Designated Driver Shuttle and Safe Ride have such starkly different operating procedures and ridership that there is a variety of students being served by continuing to fund each program separately. If you disagree with me, I’d love to hear why in the comments or at editor@oregoncommentator.com.

***Major props to Kara Cogswell, 2001-02 student activities reporter/editor for the Ol’ Dirty Emerald. Comprehensive coverage on an interesting subject should be rewarded. I hope she’s doing something awesome now.

****For reference, Safe Ride’s current budget is in the $75,000-$80,000 range and the Designated Driver Shuttle is operating with over $115,000. For both programs, budgets consist mostly of payroll and maintenance costs. Also, something cool in this article: “Spencer View Tenants’ Council was zero-funded by PFC after failing to show up to its budget hearing on time. PFC is obligated to zero-fund a group if that group is 10 or more minutes late. The council plans to appeal the decision, however, and has five business days to do so.” This year’s PFC should do that. It’d be awesome.

*****Regarding this, readers: what are your thoughts on food being bought with the student incidental fee? I’m talking retreats, conferences, on-campus events, everything.

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