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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Women just want to walk without fear

Ella Headshot

Editor's note: This column discusses sensitive topics such as sexual assault.

Around 3 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, a sexual assault occurred in the Shortbread Lofts parking deck.

Friday afternoon, an AlertCarolina went out informing the campus of the assault and asking for any information regarding the suspect. 

I was in class with one of my roommates when I got the email. After I opened it, it was nearly impossible to focus. Instead of joining in the group discussion about the readings, I was thinking about how I was going to get home from my late-night meetings, and whether I should change the isolated path I take to class to a more crowded one. 

Before leaving for my first semester at UNC, my parents had a serious discussion with me about never walking alone, how to use my pepper spray and what to do if someone grabs me from behind. My male friends were told to be careful about staying on top of their work and not to drink too much. 

After reading the AlertCarolina, I ordered a pack of personal alarms and offered an extra to a friend — they, of course, already had one. Because to be a woman on a college campus is to be prepared for the possibility of sexual assault. 

Plainly put, it was a terrifying email. I woke up the next day to texts from my younger brother making sure I was okay and ensuring I always carried mace. He should be asking where we’re going to eat on Family Weekend, not if I feel unsafe at the school that I love so much.

I’m not sure what my male peers thought upon receiving the email, but I am almost positive that it wasn’t about changing their daily routine in order to avoid being sexually assaulted.  

“The Hunting Ground” came out about four years ago, and took an in-depth look at how the University violated the Title IX anti-discrimination law. While UNC has made several significant changes to how it handles sexual assault, the fear still remains among most female students. 

It’s hard to know what to do after something like this. I don’t want to always be thinking, “What would I do if someone was following me down Franklin?” But I am, because incidents like this prove that my fear is legitimate. 

Chapel Hill Police and UNC Police have increased security in the area. This is a great first step. I don’t know what the next step should be, but I do know women feel unsafe on our campus, and that’s awful. 

That being said, the next step should not be shifting the conversation to, “What can men do to make women feel safer?” Obviously, women should feel safe, and it’s great to have a buddy to walk home with, but conversations like that don’t really address the root of the issue. The conversation needs to be about large, systematic change at UNC and universities across the country in regards to how sexual assault is reported, how survivors are treated (hopefully with respect and dignity) and how we must hold everyone accountable. 

In the meantime, let's check in with our friends. It was a tough couple of days, and we all felt it. It’s hard to imagine significant change happening while we are still at UNC, but having an open dialogue about sexual assault will hopefully make the women in classes below us feel safer. Eventually, I hope that they'll be able to walk the campus just as easily as their male peers do. 

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