Let There Be Light: It’s Time for Increased Outdoor Lighting on Campus

Swarthmore’s campus is beautiful. It’s full of scenic paths, fields, and historic buildings. However, it’s entirely too dark at night. In Public Safety’s Survey Summary Report for Fall 2022, “lighting on walkways” was the number one safety issue, with the highest percentage of responses in the “inadequate” and “very inadequate” categories (28 percent and 11 percent, respectively) and the lowest percentage of responses in the “adequate” and “more than adequate” categories (46 percent and 15 percent, respectively), compared to other issues. We, The Phoenix Editorial Board, propose that the college increase outdoor lighting fixtures for improved safety and peace of mind. 

Certain paths get too dark at night, and there are stretches of sometimes even 30 feet that are so poorly lit that it becomes difficult to discern any face, let alone bumps and obstacles in one’s way. Students anecdotally reported to The Phoenix that they have tripped, fallen, and worried at night due to the lack of light. At night, the paths from Wharton Hall to the Dining and Community Center, as well as from Mertz Hall across Parrish Lawn, and even down Magill Walk, are poorly lit. The existing lights emit meager circles of illumination, and the surrounding stretches of walkway are jet black. Thus, students can find themselves walking from one small circle of light to the next. It is difficult to tell who is around, and whether or not the people walking are students or local high schoolers, the latter of whom have been known to threaten and harass Swatties

While Swarthmore is fortunate to experience limited crime, the college has a responsibility to take every feasible preventative measure possible. This reassures students that they will not get injured, and, more compellingly, that they are at a lower risk for crimes that are more likely to occur under the cover of darkness. To this end, while increased lighting is a terrific first step, it also makes sense to increase the number of emergency call boxes that can connect students with Public Safety and local authorities.

Increased lighting does not have to necessarily disrupt the aesthetic beauty of our campus. The campus may be more appreciated with greater illumination. Potential concerns about increased energy use can be mitigated with motion-sensor-operated lights. We are not suggesting that the college illuminate areas in the arboretum or woods, which we believe should remain untouched, protected areas of nature. 

The two-fold safety issue, in terms of both tripping and potential threats in the dark, is the most widely cited issue on campus in Public Safety’s 2022 Safety Report. Furthermore, beyond the issues of physical safety, there is also the component of mental health. It can be depressing for some students to emerge from the library at 4:15 p.m. in December and trudge through an overly dark campus. 

Our campus is one of the many great things about Swarthmore, but it can be improved with the installation of more lights. High-foot traffic areas, especially, need more illumination in order to prevent accidents. Students, faculty, and staff who walk across the campus on a daily basis should not be left in the dark about their safety.

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