By Katherine Coble || News Editor
It is safe to say our campus community, particularly F&M’s female population, has been shaken by the events of last week. A 47-year-old Lancaster resident, recently released from jail and registered as a sex offender under Megan’s Law, followed a first-year member of our student body into the side door of Brooks College House and attempted to rape her in the stairwell. Students from the first floor of Buchanan Hall intervened after hearing the student’s cries for help and the perpetrator was found on the other side of campus shortlyafterwards by Public Safety. I applaud the quick thinking and hard work of everyone involved in this horrific act of violence.
However, as an underclassman woman and a longtime resident of Brooks College House, I must be frank and say that what happened on March 1 could happen again tomorrow. It could happen again tomorrow, and maybe no one on the first floor would hear, and maybe Public Safety would not be able to catch the perpetrator within minutes. It is clear to me, as I continue to enter and exit through the stairwell where a fellow F&M student was traumatized and abused by a stranger, that my home is no longer as safe as I pretended it was before. It is also clear to me that Franklin & Marshall has a responsibility to its students to take immediate and active steps to ensure a violation of this kind cannot occur on our campus again.
Since I became a student at F&M, I have spent significantly more time living on campus than in my “home” back in Virginia. I increasingly feel that Lancaster is my home and this campus is the place that I return to every night to feel comfortable. My little shoebox room in Brooks is meant to be my safe haven, a place where I watch Netflix and do laundry and avoid studying. I have spent more nights under this roof than any other in the past two years. This is where I belong. My dorm is not meant to be a place where I look behind my back every time I open or close a door. It is meant to be my home.
However, it would be remiss to categorize this as solely an issue of comfort. Psychologists have known for decades that excessive stress has a physiological impact on the body. On top of the regular stressors of homework, extracurriculars, employment, and attempting to become full-fledged adults, F&M students must now cope with the stress of feeling unsafe. This issue of physical safety is also an issue of psychological harm, which our student body must carry collectively knowing one of our own was hurt inside her own dorm. We must also face the individual burden of heightened awareness. We are unable to go about our daily lives if it happens to be dark outside or we cannot find someone to walk home with us. This is another psychological stressor that F&M students must carry with them on a daily basis.
I have three specific recommendations to the administration in light of these issues: to increase the amount of lighting on campus, to update doors throughout college housing, and to increase the amount of cameras within the interior of campus. These are concrete steps that the administration can take to show their dedication to the safety of F&M’s student body, particularly its female population. However, I hope they will be only the beginning of an increased attentiveness to the needs of F&M’s female students and a renewed commitment the quality of life Franklin & Marshall provides.
My first recommendation is that the College install more light features throughout campus, especially on the fringes of campus. I think this is an obvious and relatively simple step the administration can take to improve the safety of F&M students. It is also not without precedent. The College has taken similar measures in the past – for example, increasing lighting in the Williamson parking lot in prior years due to a spike in assaults and robberies there. Last week’s assault occurred on the edge of campus bordering a Lancaster public park with less than ideal lighting. Installing one or two new lamp posts on the fringes of campus would make students feel safer and potentially reduce the chances of this kind of attack happening again.
My second recommendation is that the College improve the quality of doors throughout campus. In my opinion the administration has not made student housing a priority. Aside from the amenity-rich housing of New and College Row, most students live in incredibly old buildings. Even if they have new furniture and carpeting, their physical structure leaves much to be desired. This is specifically an issue when it comes to doors. As the writer of The College Reporter’s Crime Report, I am well aware of incidents in which students (sometimes intoxicated, sometimes not) have physically ripped off door handles or forced their way through doors in certain campus housing. They can do this because the door itself is so weak. This is absolutely unacceptable. The College needs to invest in better infrastructure for college housing. If we are to be a residential campus and require students to live in campus-owned housing all four years, students should not feel as though their College-issued door can be pulled off its hinges.
Furthermore, many of the exterior doors to the college houses including Brooks do not close automatically after a student has fobbed in. It is physically impossible for a student to take the safety precaution of closing the door behind them to prevent a stranger from following behind. This is also unacceptable. The College must find a way for its doors to be handicap accessible without sacrificing the safety of its students. It is incredibly frustrating to me that one of the most important preventative measures a student can take – ensuring no one follows them into their home – is incompatible with how our dorms have been built. As I mentioned earlier, it is ridiculous for the College to require that students live in campus-owned housing if this housing itself does not allow us to look out for our own safety.
My final recommendation is that F&M increases the amount of security cameras on campus. We are lucky that the cameras currently installed aided Public Safety’s efforts to swiftly locate and apprehend the perpetrator of last week’s assault. However, I feel there is not a strong enough camera presence on the interior of campus, and I question whether the perpetrator would have been caught as quickly if he had decided to escape through the interior of campus rather than the fringes. This increased surveillance will help F&M students feel more safe and give Public Safety even more resources to assist our campus community. I once again believe this is a relatively simple way for the administration to demonstrate its commitment to student safety.
I think it is important to acknowledge that the incident last week was an exception to the norm of sexual violence on college campuses. According to RAINN, 7 in 10 perpetrators of sexual violence are known to their victim. This means that what happened last week is not representative of the majority of sexual violence occuring on F&M’s campus. However, I believe that this incident provides the administration a valuable opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the safety of F&M’s female students. Investing in the safety measures mentioned above is a first step to showing this dedication.
I believe that the College making female health and wellness a priority will assist our entire campus community in crafting a culture of safety. F&M women need to feel heard and their concerns need to be addressed. I am giving my administration, in a public manner, an opportunity to take this step and listen to what their female students are saying. The women of this campus are committed to making our home safer, but we need to know that we have the administration’s support. This requires more than platitudes and town halls and saying that certain suggestions will be looked into. It requires concrete action responding to student feedback, an area I think our administration could do well to improve in.
We live in a world where 1 in 4 undergraduate women have experienced rape or sexual assault. Franklin & Marshall has been under investigation by the federal government for its mishandling of sexual assault cases since May of 2014. This means the current class of seniors will have entered, attended, and graduated from a school that was under Title IX investigation for the entirety of their time here. I am giving the administration concrete ways to respond to violence on our campus and the concerns it has raised among the student body.
F&M’s female students are currently living and learning in an environment which has threatened to take away their agency and ability to thrive. It is essential that the administration renew their commitment to these students in a way that gives back this agency. I will no longer be satisfied with the creation of committees or the promises that my concerns will be looked into eventually. I demand a tangible policy change by F&M’s administration. The College has a responsibility to its female students which can no longer be pushed back or ignored. Our livelihood is at stake.
Sophomore Katherine Coble is the news editor and co-president of F&M Sexual Assault and Violence Elimination. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.