Opinion

Nighttime campus safety needs attention

Image By: Betsy Osterberger

What time are you going to leave? Do you want to walk home together? Should we just call an Uber? Text me when you get into your car. Let me know when you get home. Call me if you don’t feel safe. 

Women say these things to each other all the time without a second thought. These are sayings, and associated fears, that have been passed down by generations of women. When we say these things, we also mean “walk as fast as you can,” “don’t wear headphones at night” and “don’t walk on the Lakeshore Path after sunset.” 

But why? 

In the daytime, men and women are peers; they walk with smiles on their faces as the sun shines down on the UW-Madison campus. However, at night their roles drastically change. Suddenly, women face dangers incomprehensible to most men. As soon as the dim glow of street lights and brisk nightly chills hit, women are encapsulated by an instant sense of fear. 

Avoid eye contact, take your hands out of your pockets, keep your head up.

What it’s like to walk alone on the UW-Madison campus at night is an experience that cannot be fully understood if one has never lived it for themselves. 

At night, the sound of dry leaves on the sidewalk sounds a lot like footsteps approaching from behind. Is that group of guys on the other side of the street laughing at a joke, or at me? Do I need to take a longer route home in order to avoid them? 

This sounds like ridiculous paranoia, because it is. And while we want to believe that nothing bad could ever happen to us, there is no way of knowing if this is the time we won’t make it home safe. So we act this way every time — just in case. 

Despite this constant sense of anxiety, women often times insist on walking alone. We are strong, capable women during the day, and those traits don’t disappear once the sun goes down. 

However, this choice often leads to feelings of guilt and societal pressures begin to seep in as they dare to venture out on their own. When a woman is by herself and soon feels threatened by her surroundings, she also feels the heavy weight of not following advice from women in her life. Oh, the irony. 

This problem has a few simple solutions — walk home in a group or call for a ride. 

As women, we are so thankful to those who offer walking us home or to our cars at night. But the fact that we have to ask, like we can’t handle walking a few blocks by ourselves, not only presents us with the reality that we are not safe, but it’s also disheartening. We want to be able to roam around campus with the same worry-free attitude that our male peers have, but we cannot. 

Sexual assault, harassment, theft and attacks are not new to college campuses, and therefore not new to UW-Madison. Most often caused by the alcohol and party culture, cisgender women, along with transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming folks become vulnerable to unthinkable harms. According to the UW-Madison Annual Fire and Safety Report, over 2,200 liquor law violations occurred in 2017. In the face of 62 burglaries, 25 aggravated assaults, 25 rapes, 22 counts of stalking and 15 counts of domestic violence, how can anyone, women and marginalized communities, especially, feel safe on campus? 

Women on The Daily Cardinal Editorial Board even remark that being constantly exposed to local news of violence against women due to the nature of our jobs forces us to be intimately aware of such dangers. 

So what can we do? At first glance, nighttime safety seems like an issue that has always been there and will continue to persist. But we are still hopeful for a better future. We can continue to make campus officials and local law enforcement aware of the unique dangers women and other marginalized populations face on campus. We can participate in student government, which has a powerful voice when it comes to issues like safety, and vote in local elections to ensure that only those who take student concerns seriously are elected to office.

Most importantly, we can all do the work of changing campus culture, which is an arduous but valiant task. Harmful components of college culture, like victimization, disbelief or disadvantaging stereotypes, must be unlearned.  

Women’s safety on campus can no longer be trivialized nor marginalized. Campus attitudes and behaviors that actively perpetuate this culture of fear must change. Systematic changes must be put in place for thousands of women and those across the gender spectrum at UW to lessen weight of a heavy heart every night of their time here.

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