Don’t Assume Campus is Safe for Everyone
In late January, first-year Nicole Montegrico was walking from Panera Bread on Franklin Street to her dorm in Everett Residence Hall at around 5 p.m. when she noticed she was being followed by a stranger.
“I was just trying to get back to campus as quickly as possible,” Montegrico said. The stranger didn’t immediately follow Montegrico after she entered her residence hall but likely walked in as another student left the building.
After running back to her room, Montegrico looked through her peephole and saw the stranger pacing through her hall. When she told her roommate about being followed, she noticed the man standing in front of her door, after possibly overhearing their conversation.
Montegrico then contacted her resident advisor and UNC Public Safety, who recorded the incident as non-criminal suspicious activity. The description matched that of another suspicious person who had followed a student into Stacy Residence Hall earlier this year.
“Multiple detectives had followed up on the case both in person and through email,” Montegrico said. “There were some cops stationed outside our community for weeks following the incident.”
Despite that, no notification was sent to the residents in Everett Residence Hall or the student body.
“They could have notified us so we could have taken precaution,” Montegrico said.
Though Montegrico says the incident did not affect her perceptions of safety on campus, it has reminded her to be cautious on campus.
“After that, our dorm did the buddy system more,” Montegrico said. “We emphasized safety more, but if we had known that there was something so potentially dangerous, I wouldn’t have been walking by myself, even if it were during the daytime.”
Because of this, for many women, walking alone, especially at night, is scary and requires constantly being alert.
Although there are many resources for students to make themselves feel safer, like safety apps and self-defense classes, there are still concerns about safety on campus. For example, in 2015, there were 21 rapes on campus.
“(The fear of being attacked) has impacted the things I wear, even though I know that has nothing to do with whether anything like that should happen,” said junior Emily Hagstrom, co-chair of Carolina Advocates for Gender Equity and treasurer at “The Siren,” the student-led feminist magazine. “It has impacted whether or not I go out with people or by myself. I’ve totally restructured my entire behavior on campus because of that.”
In the fall of 2013, UNC alumna Kayla Blevins was driving with her boyfriend in the evening when she noticed three girls waving their arms at her on the corner of Kenan Street.
“As we drove closer, we could hear that they were yelling that a man was trying to lure them into a car,” Blevins said. “I hit my bright lights on the guy and that startled him enough to get back into his car and drive away.”
One of the girls remembered the license plate number of the man, and he was eventually arrested by Chapel Hill Police.
“The hardest thing about experiencing that was that those three girls weren’t doing anything wrong,” Blevins said. “They were walking as a group on a well-lit street. It was one of those instances when someone thought they would take advantage of them and intimidate them enough to lure them into his car.”
The experience has led Blevins to be more cautious while walking on campus.
“After that night, I was home and thinking to myself that never will I walk anywhere by myself on campus unless I absolutely had to, and even then I would walk on a route that was well-lit with lots of other people around it,” Blevins said. “It’s one of those things that a lot of people think would never happen to them, but it could.”
Many students feel safer walking with others than walking alone.
“As an undergrad, at night, I didn’t walk anywhere by myself,” said Blevins, who helped the three women. “I was always with a roommate or friend.”
UNC Public Safety has many resources to help people feel safer on campus, including a guide of “Safe Tips” on its website that helps people navigate situations, from keeping safe while riding a moped to being safe online.
It also offers a self-defense class for women every semester about rape aggression defenses. The class is limited to 20 and takes place over four, three-hour sessions during the evening. Public Safety also hosts events such as CarolinaSafe to raise awareness of its safety resources.
There are also other resources specifically for traveling at night such as P2P Express, Safe Ride and SafeWalk.
SafeWalk began as a student-run organization funded by UNC Student Government, but, in the fall of 2015, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs began funding it. This change has led SafeWalk to be more financially stable, and now the group has 26 SafeWalkers.
SafeWalk faced over $20,000 in debt when Student Government funded it, which led congress to cut SafeWalk’s funding in the fall of 2014.
Senior Felicity Welch worked at SafeWalk since her first year at UNC-Chapel Hill and now serves as SafeWalk’s director. She said her goals for SafeWalk in the future are to hire more walkers and to increase awareness of what SafeWalk offers.
The majority of people who use SafeWalk are UNC students, specifically women, Welch said.
“I think in any space with a lot of people, danger is possible anywhere,” Welch said. “But, I think the fact that UNC makes an effort to have programs like SafeWalk, I think that’s what makes it better.”
Though Welch joined SafeWalk because she cares about the community’s safety, she has also had many odd experiences meeting people on SafeWalks, like when she once saw students walking out of Davis Library in a 10-foot bubble ball during midterm season.
In addition to student-led programs like SafeWalk, UNC uses technology to make students feel safer. The Department of Public Safety has recommended that students download LiveSafe, a smartphone app that allows users to quickly contact public safety, track other users’ locations and make crime reports.
“As we’ve entered the cell phone era, we wanted to make available an app-based technology which allowed us to locate, in most cases, a person who may be in need of help, but also allowed that person to contact 911 easily,” said Randy Young, the media relations manager for UNC Public Safety.
UNC also uses Alert Carolina, which warns students of incoming thunderstorms but also has alerts of events that may affect the safety of students.
Because of techonology, events like shootings have become more widely publicized despite crime rates falling. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of reported criminal offenses on college campuses dropped by about 30,000 in the last 10 years.
According to UNC’s annual security report, there were 10 aggravated assaults, 21 rapes and 32 motor vehicle thefts in 2015. Though the number of incidences went up from 2013, they are not statistically significant.
“Sometimes (the increase in crime) may be an anomaly in statistic gathering, but a lot of times, and we’re hoping this is the case, we’ve provided a more transparent environment and a better understanding of resources that are available,” Young said. “So, people are more apt to come forward and report sexual assaults and other personal crimes.”
Similar to UNC, at the University of Michigan, there were 7 aggravated assaults, 21 rapes and 10 motor vehicle thefts in 2015.
Hannah Webster is an UNC graduate and a nightly news editor at WRAL, where she often covers crime.
While at UNC she felt safe walking late at night. “I would always walk from the library to my dorm on South Campus and not think much of it, even though my parents probably wouldn’t have loved that,” Webster said.
However, after moving off campus, she began to avoid walking alone at night and became more wary of her safety.
“It might have been just because of my perception of being around college students that made me feel safer,” Webster said.
Chapel Hill is relatively safe and has few violent crimes compared to surrounding cities like Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville, she said.
However, many other female UNC students noticed that, regardless of where they lived, they faced harassment for their gender.
“At a very young age, I remember being very cognizant of the fact that there was something different about being a girl in the world,” Hagstrom, a gender equity activist at UNC, said.
She remembers a stranger taking a picture under her skirt at a Lowe’s as a fourth grader and said she continues to face harassment today.
“Even now at 21, when I go out to bars, people feel like they have so much right to your body,” Hagstrom said. “They’ll come up to you and grab parts of your body and think that’s OK, and try to pull you away from your friends. If I’m not going out with some people, I just will not go out.”
At UNC and colleges around the nation, reports of sexual violence, including sexual assault and dating violence have increased. This is likely because of reforms in university policies following new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education in 2011 that held universities responsible for investigating sexual assault reports.
However, despite making changes such as hiring a Title IX officer and moving sexual misconduct cases away from the Honor Court, UNC’s handling of sexual violence continues to face criticism.
In September, sophomore Delaney Robinson said she was raped and filed two misdemeanor charges against UNC football player Allen Artis. In April, UNC’s Title IX office ruled that Artis did not violate any of the University’s policies.
“A lot of us were excited about the positive steps the University was taking towards taking sexual assault seriously, such as by talking about consent at orientation and having a Title IX office,” said Rachel Maguire, design editor for “The Siren.” “But then to see the administration handle Delaney Robinson’s case so poorly. We were all really upset.”
According to a letter from Robinson’s lawyer to Chancellor Carol Folt, Robinson reported her sexual assault in March. However, Robinson was upset that the Title IX office continued pushing back the dates of Title IX’s decision regarding her case despite the investigation having already concluded.
Her lawyer also argued that UNC violated its own Title IX policy when the Title IX office asked to see Robinson’s blood alcohol content from the rape test kit.
After Robinson spoke publicly about her experience with the University, “The Siren” organized a “Stand with Survivors” rally, demanding changes in the way that UNC handled sexual assaults.
“If UNC’s Title IX procedures aren’t working for even a single survivor, they aren’t working. Period. While we know people have dedicated much of their work lives to improving our Title IX policy, the Robinson case and others like it show that in terms of sexual assault response and prevention, UNC still has some ways to go,” Hagstorm said.
“The outcome of the case was incredibly disappointing and signals the need for some kind of change. I don’t know what that change is since I wasn’t there in the room when the decision was made. But what happened to her, and other survivors with similar experiences is awful and demonstrates a disregard for her and other survivors’ basic rights on campus.”
In response to the Title IX office’s ruling on Robinson’s case, administrators declined to comment.
According to The Daily Tar Heel, “The University cannot comment on specific cases in the Title IX office, and Vice Chancellor of University Communications Joel Curran said in a statement the university is obligated to protect students’ privacy rights.”
“Allegations of sexual assault are extremely concerning for everyone involved. We are deeply committed to the safety and well-being of our students, and we take every allegation and investigation of sexual assault seriously. We also take seriously the rights of the reporting party and the responding party to receive a fair investigation. In every case, we offer the highest levels of compassion and personal care to all students who need support,” said Curran’s statement to The Daily Tar Heel.
“The Siren’s” feminist community builder Laura Brady created a petition with signatures from students on campuses across North Carolina. The petition demanded that UNC create a survivor-friendly campus, which would encourage affirmative-only consent and respect survivor’s’ needs.
However, after sending the petition to administrators, Brady did not receive a response.
“To get no response was pretty disappointing because it made me feel, again, like this administration prioritizes certain students over others,” Brady said. “Her rapist was a football player, and I think the University had a great incentive to protect him.”
Many activists were angered by UNC’s lack of response in the past and wished for more dialogue.
“I wish UNC was more willing to have a dialogue about its problems and say, ‘We are aware of these things and these are the ways of trying to do it, but we know it’s a problem,’” Brady said. “I think they’re so busy trying to cover the problem that they never acknowledge it, and that makes it harder for survivors.”
They also noted feeling like administrators were not listening to them.
“Even when there is a meeting between administrators and students, there’s still so much disconnect and they’re not taking us seriously,” Maguire said.
Many of public safety’s efforts of increasing campus safety encourage people to be more cautious. However, this method often leads to putting the burden on the victim to protect themselves, especially in crimes that relate to sexual assault.
“Growing up, girls are taught not to dress a certain way,” Montegrico said. “If we see a bunch of guys, we have to avoid them instead of teaching the guys not to partake in any actions that would make anyone else uncomfortable.”
Though public safety encourages people to call police, some are hesitant.
“Overall, I feel safe on campus, but I’m a white woman on campus, so I have a privileged relationship with the police, so if I feel unsafe, I would feel comfortable calling 911 or pressing that blue light, and not feel more unsafe if the police arrived,” said Maguire. “But, as a woman, walking late at night, it is very scary, and I do feel unsafe doing that.”
The Daily Tar Heel is suing the University for not releasing “records of people found responsible for rape, sexual assault or misconduct by University entities.” The University declined to release the list because, it said, under FERPA, it has a responsibility to protect the information of sexual assault victims involved in Title IX cases.
The complaint was filed on Nov. 21, 2016, along with the Capital Broadcasting Co., the Charlotte Observer Publishing Co. and The Durham Herald Co.
UNC requires students to take a module on Title IX each year. However, many activists have argued that it is ineffective, citing studies that show short trainings are ineffective at preventing sexual violence.
“I’ve heard people in my class say, ‘Ugh, they emailed me about taking that training again’ and people are always like, ‘Well, you can just skip through it. It’s super fast.’ But, sexual assault and how to be an active bystander are deeply embedded in that training, and it’s not something that people can just skip through,” Brady said.
Hagstorm has not taken the online Title IX training required by the University. “I’ve taken so many things on Title IX, but I haven’t taken the course,” she said. “They send it out all the time. I’m just waiting to see what happens. And, nothing happens.”
Many are calling for more education that deconstructs false stereotypes of sexual violence, such as the misconception that perpetrators are strangers. In fact, 85 to 90 percent of assaults reported by college women are someone the victim knew, according to the National Institute of Justice.
“Blue safety lights are important, but what the campus needs is more education on consent so people know a) when they’re assaulting and b) when they’re being assaulted because there’s a lot of ambiguity,” Maguire said.
The problem of sexual violence isn’t just on college campuses, though. Women who don’t go to college are 30 percent more likely to be victimized by sexual violence, reports The New York Times.
“I feel as safe on campus as I do anywhere else in the world,” Hagstorm said. “I feel like a woman on campus.”