Educational Nonprofit for Students Struggles to Find Visibility

In a small New School auditorium in Union Square, the sound of pounding rain competed with the clacking of laptop keys. Max Robins, President and Executive Director of the Center for Communication, stepped up to the microphone, and students of every age tore their attention away from their screens to listen. 

Robins introduced himself, his esteemed panel, and the topic of that night’s discussion: Storytelling Through VR. Robins ended with the Center for Communication’s mission statement,  “We want to open the doors for the next generation of diverse media leaders” said Robins. 

Based in Brooklyn, New York, The Center for Communication is a nonprofit centered around providing free seminars for students during which they can listen to and meet influential leaders in the media community. The Center offers between 25 to 40 events per year, all free for students. 

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Storytelling Through VR event on Oct. 11

Prior to becoming the president of the Center for Communication, Robins worked as a journalist,  a childhood dream of his. “I wanted to write for great magazines and newspapers, but that world has shrunk now,” said Robins, “But, it’s ever-changing.” 

Marcelle Hopkins, Co-Director of Virtual Reality and Deputy Director of Video at The New York Times, was one of the panel members. She revealed to the student audience, “Every job I’ve had since graduating college didn’t exist when I was a student.” 

During the seminar Hopkins spoke to students about the importance of learning to tell a story. She claimed anyone can learn to use the technology necessary for virtual reality, but not everyone can tell a story well. “Events like these are important because they show students what’s out there for them, what they can do.” 

One problem the Center for Communication currently faces is outreach. Farrah Thomson, a student at The New School in Manhattan, saw a flyer for the event and decided to go. “This is my first time going to one of their events,” said Thomson, “but I want to attend more in the future. I’m surprised the organization isn’t promoted more.” 

One upcoming event Robins is particularly excited about is the Diversity and Media Career Summit on November 19. Based off the popular Women and Media Career Summit the Center has hosted for the past two years, the day-long event features keynote speakers, panels, and workshops. “We decided to create this because we have seen a growing need for diversity in media careers,” said Robins. 

Past seminar topics have included journalism, filmmaking, public relations, publishing, and First Amendment issues. “We want to break down barriers between students and the industry,” Robins commended, “We encourage people to be lifelong students.” 

Robins’ favorite thing about the Center’s panels is the wealth of knowledge displayed before him. “If I run a panel, not only am I learning from the speakers, but I’m learning from the questions our attendees ask,” explained Robins, “The students inspire me with their eagerness to learn.” 

In the future the Center for Communication hopes to offer events across the United States and, eventually, internationally. 

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Office of Safety and Security Considers Modern Personal Safety Technology

The Office of Safety and Security is currently testing Ripple, a personal security device, with a select number of students and Resident Assistants making emergency call boxes a thing of the past. 

About the size of a Scrabble tile, Ripple is a small, discrete, wearable button with bluetooth connectivity and GPS. If clicked once, a Ripple dispatcher will call the user’s cell phone. This  could be used if a student wants to stay on the line with someone while they walk alone at night.

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Ripple device on Smith’s keychain.

If Ripple is clicked three times it indicates an immediate emergency situation, and emergency vehicles will be sent to the user’s location.

Users can customize their Ripple settings to include a photo, medical information, and specify what kind of emergency vehicle they’d like dispatched in an emergency situation. 

Brian Dolansky, Associate Director of Safety and Security, reports the students testing Ripple are “using it more than they ever used an emergency call box.” 

Resident Assistant Owen Smith has been testing Ripple since August and thinks the new technology is “a great idea. Just having Ripple makes everyone feel a little safer, even if we don’t actively use it.”

The potential implementation of Ripple comes at a time when Marist students are assessing their personal safety. In the spring of 2018 senior Samantha Hesler conducted an anonymous sexual assault awareness survey in which she asked, “Is there any place on campus where you feel unsafe? Why?” Out of the out of the 108 survey responses Hesler received, six cite they feel unsafe because of a lack of emergency call boxes, frequently known as blue lights.

On campus there are 27 emergency call boxes total—19 on the east side and 8 on the west. Hesler believes, “If you’re going to have a blue light system, you need to have it across campus. You can’t half-ass the blue light system.” 

Dolansky reasons the number imbalance, “Probably had to do with the evolution of the college…there are more on the residential side because that’s where most students are at night.”

According to data gathered by the Marist Office of Safety and Security, the emergency call boxes were activated 28 times between 2012 and 2017. Of those 28 calls, only three were students asking to be escorted home by security. Five were people requesting a jump start or other car  assistance. 

“I’ve been doing this for 17 years and call boxes rarely get used,” says Dolansky, “If something isn’t being used, it’s hard to justify keeping it. But on the flip side, you can’t put a value on potentially saving someone’s life.”

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Emergency call box near underpass

Deb DiCaprio, Vice President/Dean of Student Affairs, says Ripple is, “a much better way to go in terms of personal safety. We can only guess where blue lights should be. If someone gets in trouble in one spot and we put a blue light there, someone else will get in trouble in another spot. Students can use Ripple when and where they need it, they don’t need to look around for a blue light to get help.” 

“There’s no one safety solution, no one technology, so we’re overlapping technologies by keeping the call boxes but testing Ripple,” says Dolansky, “The future of Marist security is not a static thing. We’re always looking for ways to improve and protect our students.” 

The Office of Safety and Security is not currently planning to remove emergency call boxes.