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Unsafe spaces

March 1, 2010

I don’t have a lot of time to write, but I wanted to post a couple recent stories that highlight how college campuses can be unsafe spaces for many. Living at a college is a unique environment which many experience and only for a brief  portion of their lives. For me, its the first time that my “community” has been so clearly and deliberately defined. This manifests in many ways, but one in particular are college’s communal codes of conducts. One rarely considers the code of conduct before entering a college community, but its something that is defined for you and you must agree to when you enroll. These codes of conduct are often hard to change from the inside, as we have seen at Carleton with the long process of trying to alter the Sexual Misconduct policies. These codes of conduct do not always make a campus environment more safe, and often are less strict on violations of the law.

I’ve found that living in such a deliberate community often makes me feel more safe: I will leave my laptop for hours in the library, feel pretty comfortable walking around late at night, and generally feel like I can rely on fellow Carls more than the wider population. However, when this community is made to feel unsafe, the small size and level of control is even more imposing. Victims of crimes or harassment know that the perpetrator is walking around their small campus, even if they do not know who it was. On a campus, public spaces are also living spaces; there is rarely a place where one is perfectly alon e and in complete control of their environment. Further, small social environments can allow individual reputations to flourish. One’s perceived character is often taken into account just as much as one’s actions. I have seen this work negatively when a person with a good reputation is accused of violence, and the survivor was less likely to be believed.

My level of comfort on my own campus has varied over the past few years. I now live in cooperative housing, which means I have a smaller deliberate community over which I have greater control, but feeling of safety in the wider community still varies. Recently, there have been multiple stories of occasions where feelings of safety have been violated. I really think these stories highlight the need for internal efforts to define our own communities for ourselves, and articulate expectations of behavior.

First, there is the “racial crisis” at UCSD. Larger issues of racism at the school were called attention to when an off-campus house hosted a “Compton Cookout.” The party was advertised as follows:

Kegs of Natty, dat Purple Drank — which consists of sugar, water, and the color purple, chicken, coolade, and of course Watermelon.”

Male partygoers were urged in the invitation to wear white T-shirts, with “XXXL smallest size acceptable.” Female attendees were given this guidance: “Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words, such as ‘constipulated’, or simply cursing persistently, or using other types of vulgarities, and making noises, such as ‘hmmg!’, or smacking their lips, and making other angry noises, grunts, and faces.”

Tensions stemming from this event have resulted in peaceful protests across the UC system encouraging the university to take swifter action in punishing the fraternity. As counter protests, a nooses was hung on campus.

Second, on UC Davis’s campus there were two recent acts of hate-based vandalism. A swastika was carved in a Jewish student’s door and their LGBT center was vandalized with statements like “Gay go 2 hell.”

Finally, “All Things Considered” featured a woman who was sexually assaulted on her college’s campus, but felt that the administration did not take proper action. (via) *Trigger Warning* for this podcast. This story does a good job highlighting how college community codes of conduct can fail at making victims of sexual violence feel more safe on campus and promoting restorative justice.

All of these stories make me value the actions of Dartmouth students even more in their attempts to hold their peers accountable to racist and sexist behavior. How do you think we can make our own campuses safer for all students? How do we define our expectations and hold each other accountable? What steps can really make a college campus a safe and supportive community?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Samantha permalink
    March 1, 2010 2:59 AM

    I was considering writing an entry about the issue at my campus, but I find myself taking issue with both sides. A few corrections: only one noose was found, although that one alone did enough damage. Also, the protest at Berkeley unfortunately did become violent, and similarly, I was disillusioned with many of the protesters at my own school, some of which called out promises of physical retaliation, others who threatened passersby who refused to join in, and some who harassed our chancellor based on ageist and sexist insensitive remarks…. something I found troubling given what we had organized to supposedly rally in support of.

    It’s worth noting that no UCSD fraternity hosted the event. It was an off campus event hosted by a mixture of people: both members and non-members of the UCSD community, both nonmembers and members of multiple UCSD fraternities, by African American as well as white, asian, and hispanic students. The administration chose not to punish any students or organization, because there was no way to hold anyone accountable as a member of the UCSD community. The event was not associated with any UC organization.As happy as I am that the event prompted a closer look into the inherent racism and misogyny underlying the UC system, I think calls to punish those involved was not within the power of the institution given the circumstances, and anything beyond verbal denunciations (which the university did partake in) would be inappropriate.

    With regard to the second incident: the paper (the Koala) that published the offensive statements (leading to our Associated Students president freezing all media funds temporarily) have been a disgusting “humor-mag” of sorts that has said far worse things over the years. For example, after a student was raped at knife-point on campus last year, the paper reported the incident by declaring that said victim should consider herself lucky, because girls at UCSD are so ugly that the fact any person wants to sleep with them at all is a miracle. I have personally abhorred the presence of this paper at my school for years, and am not committed to the idea of valuing hate-speech as valuable to protect on a college campus. Still, I suppose that free speech is worth nothing unless you are willing to protect that speech which most offends you…. Essentially, I don’t know how I feel about this incident- it is certainly nothing new for UCSD “koala” readers, and it moreso concerns me that students haven’t been in an uproar over comments they’ve made in the past.

    These two events alone created the environment which has been spread by the media to describe a “racial crisis” at UCSD. The misleading details that have been reported have made me less sympathetic to the situation, but in other ways I appreciate that attention is being brought to the fact that less than 1% of my school’s students are African American. This number is lower here than at most other UCs, but nonetheless remains a problem at all UC schools. Obviously there is something going on at these schools, including my own that creates a hostile or otherwise unfriendly environment for black students. If nothing else, at least this arguably displaced media attention is forcing our schools to confront and recognize these issues head on. We can’t pretend there is no problem anymore.

    There obviously is a problem when someone hangs a noose in the school’s public library, especially within the context of the current climate of racial tensions here. Clearly, such an act has been interpreted as exemplifying hate speech with the intent to incite terror amongst certain students. I attended the rally on Friday, and one thing students repeatedly reiterated was that such events have made “their bodies feel unsafe”. When we occupied the chancellor’s office, she ended her response by thanking the protesters for putting their bodies on the line for the sake of creating environment promoting acceptance, equality, and mutual respect at the university. In general, I have been happy with the my the administration at my school has handles the issue, and am proud that some students have become involved in the public discourse. In general, UCSD is known for being an apathetic campus, and was even physically constructed to discourage a critical mass from meeting up to do such things like protest injustices. I’m glad that many students at my school have been willing to stand up and prove that the ignorant, hateful acts of some are not representative of our campus as a whole as long as we contest these acts when they occur.

    • happybodies permalink
      March 1, 2010 3:34 AM

      Thanks for all the corrections, Samantha! I was writing this in a hurry and obviously not properly fact-checking. I’ll update this… soon. I think in general incidents like these only serve to highlight larger issues on campus. It is often unfortunate that racism and sexism on campus is not addressed until events like these bring them into light.

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