By Amy Schulman, Opinion & Editorial Editor ||
I’ve never not felt safe at F&M. I’ve walked back to my dorm from the library in the early hours of the morning, dashed from fraternity houses to the lofts along West James at 1:00 a.m. and walked downtown to Central Market in the need of a smoothie fixing on Saturday mornings. Despite being here for two years and receiving those F&M text alerts to let students know there’s been a robbery on Charlotte Street or there’s someone suspected of being armed on Mulberry street, I’ve never once felt uncomfortable or feared for my safety.
Growing up in New York City, I was taught street smarts from an early age. Don’t go anywhere with a stranger. Keep your belongings close to you on the subway. Don’t walk around by yourself in the middle of the night. Take a taxi home at four in the morning, not the subway. These rules may have also stemmed from the troubled conscience of my Jewish mother, who continues to remind me to always hold my bag in front of me and to not walk through parks alone in the middle of the night (we had just watched Ken Burns’s documentary, The Central Park Five as she relayed this information to me again).
Though New York is extremely safe now compared to the past, and, yes I do find myself to be perfectly safe taking the subway in the early hours of the morning, my New York street smarts seem to burrow so deeply into the back of my brain that I drop my guard when I arrive in Lancaster. I forget that when I come to Lancaster, even though I feel like I’m in the Franklin & Marshall bubble, that’s not the case. I forget that people live here, and it’s not ruled solely by college students (as much as we’d like to think this is true).
Last week, a robbery occurred in Buchanan Park. We had left some bags on a picnic table, and, while everyone was busy, I stayed back to check my phone briefly. A 30-something man strutted over to me, along with a young woman and her four-year-old son. The man, attempting to overcome a thick Spanish accent, tattoos up and down his arms, and missing a couple of teeth, started chatting with me, asking about F&M, what I was studying and what I was doing at the park, a mere block from the edge of campus. The woman sat behind me so I couldn’t see her that well, choosing her seat wisely so that she was within arm’s reach from all the bags on the table, the little boy next to her playing in the grass. I shifted my body slightly so that I could keep an eye on her as the man talked to me, and I immediately pulled my backpack close to me, zipping it up so my computer and wallet were not in either of their viewpoints. He saw I was agitated and uncomfortable, not wanting to continue the conversation, and he stated harshly that he wanted to leave. I turned away, and assumed they had walked away. Little did I know, they had taken a bag with them.
They had pulled a fast one on me. As a city girl, I was extraordinarily embarrassed. Though it was not my bag that had been taken, I still felt violated. I had assumed unwisely that because I was out of a big city, because I was in Lancaster, Penn., nothing like this could happen, especially in Buchanan Park, which is basically part of campus.
My safety net has been shattered. I’m trying to become more aware of my surroundings as I walk from class to class, from my apartment to campus, and as I trudge home from Martin hours after the sun has set. At times I feel like I’m acting irrational because I know these kinds of things don’t happen that often. Even so, I’m definitely holding my belongings closer to me (thanks, Mom).
Amy Schulman is the Opinion and Editorial Editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.