by Alice Wilder. Originally posted by SPARK. Republished with permission.
I thought the toughest adjustment when it came to starting college would be the workload, or self discipline, or missing my friends and family. I was prepared for those challenges. What I didn’t expect was the anxiety that comes with wedging my fingernail into the groove of my pocket knife while walking home alone late at night.
Or looking over my shoulder on dark streets, to make sure that the guy who was just behind me isn’t following too closely.
Or getting my things and moving to another floor of the library after a guy sitting in a corner with a blank computer screen, is staring at me every time I glance over.
Or that sense of vulnerability when I’m in a study room at one a.m and I’m the only girl in the room.
Every day isn’t like this. There are nights when I walk home from the library only thinking about my awaiting bed, not about defending myself. Not every day is like this. There are nights when I’m so into my studying that I don’t notice that I’m the only girl in the room. But there are enough days filled with what I guess I’d call “rape culture fatigue” that I feel the need to talk about it.
I went to a small magnet arts high school where the most hyper-masculine guys were dance majors. The guys at Carolina display a different kind of masculinity. They sit outside their frat houses and stare at girls as they walk by. Guys yell things too crude to repost here at my friends and I at night. If I raise my hand half as many times as a guy in class, I’ll learn that he talked about how “intense” I am to the rest of the class.
Rape feels like it’s everywhere here. I’m sure it’s everywhere at most universities. I know that it is not just Carolina, but there are still days when it is everywhere for me. It’s in every bathroom stall, on the flier that says “have you or someone you know experienced sexual assault?” and all I can do is mentally list all the people I know who are survivors of sexual assault. It’s a long list.
Rape is in the hall as I walk from the bathroom to my dorm room, past a flyer for a public talk in bright red letters: “RAPE: is it different at college?” One moment I’m thinking about what I’ll make for dinner and suddenly my mind is swirling because yes, of course it is different at college At college assaults are joked about on campus wide Facebook groups and treated as an opportunity debate rather than a traumatic event.
It’s hard not to feel anxious knowing that rapists walk the same streets as me, eat in the same dining hall, check out the same books. Most rapes go unreported, and the ones that are rarely result in a conviction.
I’d like to tell myself that it’s all irrational—after all, I know that the typical rapist isn’t some guy jumping out of the bushes: it’s a guy dancing next to you at a party, or a mutual friend. But that doesn’t mean that I stop feeling afraid outside at night.
It just means I must also be on my guard at a party on a Friday night. I have to feel afraid while showering in my dorm hall, because earlier this semester a guy was caught leering at a girl in her shower. Then students mocked her on social media.
There are days when I want to go to the Dean’s office and ask where I can feel safe here. Not in the shower, at the library, on the sidewalk or at a party. When can I go a day without thinking about rape? About my friends who are survivors and about the strangers whose stories I know?
I want to walk freely at night without fear. I want to walk down the street without guys catcalling me. I want the university to do everything in their power to make sure no rapists are on campus. I want guys to stop saying that they aren’t “all like that” and to stand with the feminist organizations that are working towards a solution.
I’ve asked so many of my feminist friends on campus how to cope with this and no one has an answer beyond “you get used to it” and I need for this university, and every university held accountable by Title IX to have an answer for us.