Should I Be Afraid of College?

Sydney Brown, Editor-in-Chief

There are many factors to consider when choosing a college, many of which I’ve been analyzing, as I am in the middle of the application process. However, there is one factor I now have to consider that I never imagined would be an issue: As a woman, will I be safe at the college I attend?  In the past year, more and more stories of sexual assault and rape at universities have surfaced.  Countless went viral over social media; one of the first I saw was the story of Emma Sulkowicz.  She is a student at Columbia University who was sexually assaulted in her dorm room during her sophomore year.  After reporting the incident, Sulkowicz felt that the university had mishandled the case, finding her attacker not guilty. In protest, she is carrying her mattress with her everywhere as a visual representation of the emotional weight the attack has put on her life.

Another news story of campus sexual assault really struck me this fall.  In late November, Rolling Stone released an article about the unheard of, brutal sexual assault of a University of Virginia student and the lukewarm way the university handled the case by sweeping it under the rug.  The student decided to come forth and tell her story, hoping to shed light on the issue of sexual misconduct at UVA.  The article is graphic and very disturbing.  Even more concerning is the number of other UVA students and alumni who have come forth saying that they, too, were victims of sexual abuse while attending UVA.  It is a deeply rooted issue that many claim the school had concealed to protect its prestigious reputation.  I felt my palms perspire, and I don’t think I took a single breath as I read the article.  This is the school that I hope to attend.  My number one choice is, all of a sudden, a dream turned into a nightmare.  Who wants to attend a school that sacrifices the health and well-being of its students for the sake of upholding a great reputation?  Since the story was released, UVA has comprised an aggressive plan towards stopping sexual misconduct on its campus.  They have developed a thorough and multi-faceted plan to address the issue and incite much-needed reform.  It may be naïve of me, but knowing the issue is being addressed restores some of my feelings about the university.  It is tragic that such terrible events had to take place to show a need for change, but I am more than eager to welcome that change.  I am still applying and if I am accepted, it will still be one of my top choices.  I admire that the university has now confronted its problems in hope of solving them.

However, there is still a fear that runs through me.  UVA isn’t the only university sexual assault has or will occur at.  Whether shed light on by the media or swept under the rug, the reality is that sexual assault is a problem at universities everywhere.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported “in a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.”  I find this number to be absolutely paralyzing.  It’s an inescapable fear.  There is only so much I can do.  I can make good decisions and learn self-defense, but that might be enough.  Even if I do protect myself, I can’t protect my high school best friend at another college, or my little cousin when she’s older.  Furthermore, why should I even have to do these things?  Why am I forced to see men as predators or as some type of enemy?  Not all men are rapists.  But how can I ever tell who is being charming and respectful and who may be “luring me in.”  I want to focus on academics and having fun at college, not constantly worrying about my safety.  A society has been created that sees women as meat and blurred lines as a “yes.”  There are men that think anything goes if a girl is drunk.  And there are people that will blame a girl for “crying rape,” accusing her of just wanting to get a guy in trouble.  All this causes us to fail to take this issue seriously, until it is too late.  All universities need to take serious steps towards ending campus rape.  The solutions are obvious.  Right now men need to learn what exactly rape is, how unacceptable it is, and how it ruins lives.  Women need to learn to help each other, be smart, and how to support, not label or blame each other.  Most importantly, everyone needs to learn how to be a responsible bystander and stop unwanted sexual contact, regardless of the situation.  Safety needs to come before status.  This issue needs to be treated as the criminal and moral issue it is.   I want to go to college and not be stunted by fear of being assaulted.  I want to trust, not fear, my classmates.  I want universities to be considered safe places again