Gutierrez: I deserve to feel safe on campus

Pallas Gutierrez, Columnist

When I was packing to move from New York City to Evanston for college, I was looking forward to being less nervous walking around at night. I was so very wrong. I felt safer at first, perhaps because I was deluding myself. But as more reports of assaults and attempted assaults on and near campus, I have felt more unsafe walking around campus than I have ever felt at home. When I think about that, it seems laughable. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I could feel safer in one of the largest cities in the world than on this campus, which is supposed to be my home for the next four years.

New York City is well-lit. Even with lampposts every thirty feet or so in the more well-lit parts of campus, Northwestern feels so dark to me. I can’t see people’s faces until they’re within ten feet of me. The incidents on campus recently combined with how early the sun goes down in the winter makes the darkness terrifying.

More importantly, New York City never promised me safety. The city has a reputation as being impersonal and, as a result, a little dangerous. Northwestern is supposed to be safe. I should be able to spend the next four years feeling fine going home at 1 a.m. and not worrying anytime I’m outside alone after 4:30 p.m. How am I supposed to spend my time here learning and growing when I have to use up to an hour every day planning walking routes and finding buddies? How can I grow as a person when I’m constantly afraid? How can I make friends if anyone can be a threat?

“Just go home earlier,” you may be saying. I can’t, and many students here can’t. Extracurriculars are at night, purely because that’s the structure that makes the most sense in college. Rehearsals and runs for the shows I’m working on have ended at 5:30 p.m. at the earliest, midnight at the latest. I can’t go home earlier, and I refuse to quit my extracurricular activities — the breadth of which was a big factor in my decision to attend NU — to change that. I may be scared, but I refuse to let that fear totally change my life.

The University has attempted to respond to these incidents. Safe Ride has suspended a minimum distance to use the service, and some shuttles extended their run times from 5 p.m. through 3 a.m. While these services alleviate some amount of anxiety, they are not a cure-all. Waiting for Safe Ride or the shuttles still requires being exposed outside, possibly alone, for up to fifteen minutes. Even though these responses come from a good place and can begin to make people feel safer, they cannot fix the broader fear of violence on campus.

I shouldn’t have to worry about this. I shouldn’t be able to feel my pulse quicken whenever my roommate texts me, “Have you seen the news?” I shouldn’t have to be constantly vigilant as I walk home at night. I should be able to listen to music. I shouldn’t have to overthink my every action on my college campus, a place where everyone is supposedly looking out for each other, where we are supposedly a community.

A. Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication freshman. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.