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Safer streets in Grinnell: The S&B examines student fears of gender based violence

Walking the minimally-lit streets of Grinnell at night, many students feel unsafe for fear of gender-based violence.

The factors that shape this fear are institutional, both within Grinnell College and beyond. The main institution at work in creating this atmosphere of fear is that of the patriarchy, a system of male supremacy which subjugates women and those who do not fit within the masculine ideal.

Iowa has made national news in recent months with the murders of Mollie Tibbetts and Celia Barquin Arozamena, both women killed by men. These deaths exemplify the prevailing forces of America’s patriarchy which place women’s bodies as objects to be exploited and controlled by men.

These are just recent examples that substantiate the fear of violence pervasive in the minds of women and those who not conform to the gender binary.

Grinnell College cannot solve the patriarchy, but it has the power to make institutional changes on its own scale to ensure the safety of students on campus and within the community.

Therefore, The S&B will be initiating a series of articles looking at concerns held by Grinnell students regarding the potential for gender-based violence when walking at night on and off campus.

A recent on campus encounter

On Sept. 16 at 2:29 A.M., Kelly Page ’21 posted on the Grinnell Thumbs Down Facebook page about their experience being harassed and followed by a man while walking by the JRC.

“A man biked past but stopped, asked if I went to the college and said ‘you look beautiful.’ I said, ‘you can keep going,’ realizing that this was not a safe situation,” the post detailed. “He kept biking but then turned around and seemed like he was gonna bike back towards me.” Page then ran as fast as they could to the nearest dorm.

The conversation on Grinnell Thumbs Down began surrounding the reality of safety at night, especially for women and those outside the societal norm of the gender binary. This discourse both acknowledges the reality women live in, but, more urgently, questions who has the power to alter that reality.

Page asked for help getting home safely via Facebook that night and another student eventually walked them home. Yet Page’s need to turn to students demonstrates the shortcomings of the institutions meant to keep them safe.

“This is scary,” posted Anushka Kulshreshtha in the comment thread of Page’s original post.

Similar Concerns Shared by Many Other Students.

In a poll administered by The S&B and shared via student Facebook groups, 101 students out of 141 student responses reported feeling unsafe walking home due to gender-based violence, with three other students also reporting a lack of security due to their sexuality.

When asked to elaborate on these feelings, out of 105 responses, respondents detailed being catcalled, followed and harassed by men while walking, bike riding and generally existing on the streets of Grinnell at night.

Poll respondents were not required to identify themselves. One anonymous female respondent wrote, “[I feel unsafe walking home at night] because when I’m alone I never know if another person or car is going to feel entitled to catcall/approach me and the thought terrifies me.”

For women of color on campus, fears of gender-based violence are doubly compounded as both of these identities may be targeted for assault and harassment. “My boyfriend lives off campus, and there are no street lights in town. The walk is terrifying being a woman of color and I often find myself running there or making him get out of bed to walk me,” said a self-identified Black American female poll respondent.

The S&B’s investigation into student safety at night will focus on institutional forces and responsibilities. The investigation will evaluate the role of both Grinnell College and the town of Grinnell. Future pieces will include but are not limited to discussing the role of zoning laws in lighting distribution, the office of campus security, student culture and avenues of recourse available for students who have experienced harassment or assault off-campus.

This series is open and evolving. Please contact [fruchter] or [wraychlo] if you would like to share your story or give your input to this investigation.

Facing north on Park Avenue directly east of the North Campus dorms, this is just one of the dimly lit paths students use on campus, despite the fear many have of encountering potentially dangerous situations in the dark.
Photo by Zoey Kohler
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  • B

    B SmithOct 6, 2018 at 10:07 am

    A good editor would have ended this sentence (and series title) after the word “violence.l

    Therefore, The S&B will be initiating a series of articles looking at concerns held by Grinnell students regarding the potential for gender-based violence when walking at night on and off campus.