A Fresh Perspective

When you get to college, your personal definition of “walking distance” increases exponentially. I didn’t have a car for my first three years at school and very rarely felt like I needed one—I walked everywhere on campus, from classes to the dining hall to various extracurricular activities. I walked to off-campus shops and restaurants, learned the residential areas north and west of campus like the back of my hand, stumbled back to the dorm on many a Friday or Saturday night somewhere between tipsy and drunk.

One night, a group of us were finishing up a late-night cram session in the basement of the university library. We emerged to a warm fall night at about 12:30 a.m. and began splitting off into different directions. “My car’s right over there, do you need a ride?” one girl asked me.

“Don’t you live on campus?” I countered.

“Well, yeah,” she said, “but the opposite end.”

“That’s not that far,” I said. I flashed my best teasing grin. “Too lazy to walk half a mile?”

Her face grew patient, like a teacher explaining a fresh concept to a middle schooler. “It’s not that I’m lazy as much as I don’t really feel comfortable walking by myself in the middle of the night,” she said.

I might be a male, but I am not an imposing figure, physically speaking. I stand about 5’5” and weigh maybe 125 pounds the day after a big meal. In high school, I was the kind of guy more likely to have my lunch money stolen than to be the one doing the stealing. Walking past bullies—or, in college, past homeless people, drug addicts, and other sketchy-looking characters downtown—I’d learned to keep my head down, stay quiet, not make eye contact. It’s not that I tried to be invisible as much as make myself as small and as passing a presence as possible. I’d never had any problems, and I’d developed a working theory that people who didn’t go looking for trouble probably wouldn’t find any.

Another time, a different girl and I were commiserating about recent bouts of insomnia. She asked me what I did late at night when I was too restless to even lie in bed. I told her that I’d started going for long walks—I’d put earphones in, select some appropriate mood music, and just roam aimlessly around campus. I liked the dark, the quiet, the fresh air, the empty world lit only by streetlights. I’d recently discovered a lawn/pond area hidden away behind an academic building on the edge of campus and couldn’t recommend its tranquility highly enough. I asked her if she knew it.

Again, that same patient expression, but with a hint of annoyance this time as she told me that she knew exactly where I was talking about. She told me that her sophomore-year roommate had been sexually assaulted there on her way home from a party last fall.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except for my own observation that men and women really do live in different worlds sometimes. College is the first step toward independence, the first time that late-teenage freshmen have lived away from their parents’ houses and rules. And with that newfound freedom comes the natural-enough desire to embrace it, explore it, indulge in it. But for women, there exists a burden of personal responsibility—not just one that men don’t have to bear, but one that men don’t even realize needs to be borne.

I think I even tried to reassure my sleepless friend that no, really, late-night walks did the trick, and that “You’ll be fine.”

“No,” she said, her eyes flashing as she made eye contact. “You’ll be fine.”

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

Digital Edition