The Santa Fe University of Art and Design is facing criticism concerning security, yet it appears to be making some strides to smooth relations with the campus community. The school just last week formalized its policy regarding pepper spray, allowing students and employees to now carry a small amount.

Many colleges allow students to carry non-lethal forms of defense weapons on their campuses. In recent months, the University of New Mexico has been the subject of scrutiny over its policy on stun guns. The Albuquerque campus saw a significant increase in aggravated assault and stalking incidents in 2015. This year, the campus has seen several protests, as the increase in incidents has caused a comparable rise in student anxiety on campus.

 Maria Egolf-Romero
Maria Egolf-Romero | Maria Egolf-Romero

In the case of SFUAD, administrators say the new pepper spray policy comes after students expressed anxiety in recent meetings with them.

The campus now permits devices that hold no more than 3 ounces of the noxious chemical that can be a deterrent to assailants. While some students tell SFR that they personally do not carry pepper spray, they were glad that the school made the change to allow it.

"For people who actually use it, they feel safe with it. So why deny them that?" says Danny Santana, a digital arts major walking near the library on a windy afternoon.

Other students say their anxiety about campus safety is, at least partially, over how easy it is to access the school grounds. The campus that sits between Siringo Road and St. Michael's Drive is sometimes used as a shortcut between the two arteries. This creates a lot of traffic through the campus and brings a lot of unfamiliar faces around.

"I constantly see people that I don't recognize," Santana says, "and it's a small school. So you know everybody who is on it, and you recognize who aren't on it. So yeah, I guess that's the biggest itch."

University administrators, who have been hit hard by student journalists over security staff conduct and other safety concerns, tell SFR they are aware of some discomfort and want to change that.

Interim President Maria Puzziferro, who began her post at the helm of the school about a month ago, describes SFUAD as "a safe campus" but says she wants to build on that. "It's not a handful of security guards that keep a campus safe, it's everyone, looking out for each other, making good choices. You know if you see something, say something. We are really trying to cultivate that kind of environment where we all come together to make the campus safe," Puzziferro says.

The school has long used a guard shack at its main entrance and recently added a security post on Siringo Road. But just having the place for a guard to be stationed is not enough, students say. They want a presence in the security booths.

Vic Bell, a theater major, tells SFR the new booth isn't making a difference. "People are still going to blow through it," she says.

A few minutes later, a visit to the temporary structure, surrounded by movable concrete barriers and complete with broken windows, finds it unmanned, and that status was the same during a second campus visit on a different day.

Students say they still need more communication. The school is planning to make a new smartphone app available for download that would boost safety and communication around campus. Spokeswoman Lauren McDaniel says testing with student leadership is underway, but she's not sure when it will be available.

Universities around the country use LiveSafe, which bills itself as a "mobile safety communications platform." McDaniel says the app also features an "interactive safety map that allows students to go to their friends and have their friends watch them walk from one location to another via GPS tracking through the app. It's a dynamic new app that will enable students, faculty and staff to really go in and use it to keep everybody aware of safety and security on campus."

Student Robert Canales, a junior working in the library on a weekend afternoon, says the app sounds like it would improve things. "We don't really have a way to get a hold of [security]. It's just kind of, like, give them a call to this number, and if they answer, then they answer. So I definitely think with different procedures or protocols or communication to get to them, it would be a safer place," Canales says.

McDaniel also points to lighting upgrades in the fall that went in after administrators walked the campus with students. The project got mixed reviews. "I walk around a lot at night when I can't sleep. Most of the campus is really well lit," says Bell.

Santana says he still sees dark spots. "I am a guy, and I walk around with four other guys, and I still do not feel safe around the studio arts building at night."

Administrators contend that they've heard that message and already have a plan to improve lighting in additional areas, including the walkway from the film school to the Den, according to McDaniel. Plus, the school is arranging classes on how to safely and effectively use pepper spray.