‘Hey, can you watch my stuff?’


Evan Robinson-Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

A student’s belongings sit unattended in Norbucks. The question, “Watch my stuff?” is an easy way for students to feel safe leaving their things behind while running out.

Evan Robinson-Johnson, Assistant Photo Editor

When running to the restroom, grab your phone, but leave your backpack and laptop, says McCormick junior Jonathan Dai. From Norbucks to Mudd Library, the question “Can you watch my stuff for me?” has become an essential part of the Wildcat lingo.

Northwestern students are trusting, but only to a certain point. They’ll leave their backpack and laptop, complete with colorful case and stickers, documents and data, under the watchful gaze of a stranger. A seat partner. Someone they just met. They choose to trust this new acquaintance, this accidental colleague, over the general public.

On the receiving end, the person asked to “watch the stuff” is suddenly dealt a great deal of responsibility. They now have to watch an extra laptop, backpack, maybe even a set of AirPods. They’re tied to that spot. They’re a guardian.

Though she admits she’s never yet had to jump into action, Communication first-year Sam Liu said if trusted with someone else’s gear, “I would defend it, swat people away, if I had to.”

Some trusting students haven’t been so lucky. Last Fall Quarter, a University police report stated that multiple laptops had been stolen from Willard Hall and Alpha Epsilon Pi. Reports like that have prompted some students to take extra precautions, such as SESP first-year Savion Jean-Pierre.

“I always take everything with me,” Jean-Pierre said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Not all students feel the same, though. Liu lives in Willard and said she feels her possessions are safer in the dorm than out in public places like Norbucks. But it also depends where you live, as some of the smaller dorms foster a greater sense of community, Liu said.

“Watch my stuff” comes from a unique balance of convenience and caution. For a quick trip, it’s not worth packing up completely, but you also don’t want to abandon everything and assume it will be safe, Medill first-year Bryce Wilcoxson said.

“I would never just walk away,” Wilcoxson said. “And I always take my phone, it’s basically attached to me.”

While many students keep their phone with them even for short trips, they’re satisfied leaving the rest of their belongings with a stranger after just a quick word. Students are generally comfortable trusting in the goodness of people, McCormick junior Lauren Battaglia said, but this won’t stop her from being alert.

“People seem pretty trustworthy here,” Battaglia said. “But I still always prefer to leave stuff with a friend.”

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