LaTasha Whitley: Campus Insecurity

September marks a new beginning for students, teachers and faculty.  It is a chance to create a favorable impression, spark new friendships, excel in new areas, and reconnect with your peers.  For college students, it can mark their transition into a new environment where parents are absent and they are granted unprecedented freedom.  But, with this freedom comes a sense of responsibility to protect themselves, as well as others.  This protection can be violated, leaving students feeling helpless and apprehensive about exploring their new surroundings.

When I would walk alone at night during my undergraduate years at Stony Brook University, I would constantly observing my surroundings, listening intently for any weird noises, and cling to my ID card and keys tightly until I made it to my destination.  Although I never experienced any threat of violence, it was always something I was conscious of.  As a native New Yorker, I figured that it was normal to have this kind of anxiety and paranoia.  However, this also made me think further about how secure I felt my campus was.  I didn’t see an overwhelming presence of security guards and I don’t recall it being difficult to get on campus if you were a visitor.  There wasn’t an ongoing dialogue about safety precautions, violence prevention, and resources that were available to those in need.  I wondered if I was just being overly cautious and didn’t need to be on such high alert all the time.

This feeling was dispelled when I had my purse stolen in the lobby of my building.  The moment that I let my guard down and put my vigilance on hold was when I was violated.  Luckily, all I lost was my wallet with $20 inside versus being brutally attacked for my belongings.  However, I did have to go through the inconvenience of returning home to replace my important documents and filing a report with the proper authorities.  This incident taught me a vital lesson in never feeling like I am exempt from anything happening to me. 

Often times, you read the newspaper or hear segments about the assaults and various criminal activities that take place around you, but never believe that these things could happen to you.  You wonder why a person would be walking alone at 4AM and think that you would never do something that could potentially place you in danger.  However, you don’t consider the extenuating circumstances that could have caused this person to be in the right place at the wrong time.  I recently watched a video of a woman being attacked by three men while she was waiting for her job to open.  Her behavior did not warrant this kind of incident to happen and she should not be blamed for the misconduct of her attackers.  This is also true of sexual assaults.  As a woman, I am cautioned against dressing or acting in a certain manner because this could make me susceptible to being victimized by others.  I think this notion is deplorable and calls attention to the lack of security offered to women. 

While in graduate school at Fordham University, I was surprised to see frequent e-mails from campus security about the numerous assaults and robberies taking place at other campus sites.  My campus was located amongst numerous businesses in a quiet suburban area ofWestchester County.  It consisted of only one building, nestled within a vast amount of trees.  I often spoke to my classmates about how secure they felt the campus was, a conversation that circulated frequently following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  We all admitted to having some fears about the apparent limited security, open access to the school, and lack of visible precautions to prevent violence.  Large glass windows surrounded the classrooms, and I often found myself looking outside during class ensuring that no one was lurking within the woods or in the parking lot.  I felt silly for thinking this way, but I also deemed it necessary to always be on the look out for potential threats.

I luckily graduated from Fordham, unscathed, but I recognized that this was not the reality of many students across the nation.  I will never forget the horror I felt for students at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and countless others whose nightmares became a reality.  I believe that from those tragedies, we have not only grown to become more cautious, but also more compassionate about the impact of our treatment of others.  There are always lessons learned in the midst of adversity that we must never forget.

Maintaining safety on school grounds is a crucial factor that should receive the upmost attention.  It is necessary to ensure that students, as well as staff, are provided with precautions to assist them in the event of a potential threat.  Creating safer campuses is a responsibility that everyone must share and work together to achieve.  I recently researched the Sexual Assault Committees at my alma maters and gained a wealth of information about the resources available on campus.

Have you explored the services offered at your school?  Comment below with your thoughts; we would love to hear them.