It was a beautiful day for a college tour. I said to my mother, “She’s going to decide this is the college for her – just because the weather is perfect and the fall foliage is breathtaking.”
I had spoken to a group of college students a week earlier and confessed that I thought college visits might be the thing that challenged my otherwise positive relationship with my daughters. Everyone will be oohing and ahhing about dorm rooms, abundant meal plans, endless extracurricular options, and vast and hour-less libraries. Then I’ll chime in with a question about campus safety. It’s because I know too much.
But, I didn’t have to ask. Some other mom asked. “How safe is the campus?”
What was I expecting? That’s the real question I need to explore. What kind of response am I expecting?
The pride-filled college senior chuckled before giving his stellar tour guide response. “The joke around here is that nothing ever happens.” My heart sank.
“We have a campus security force called Public Safety. They’re actual police officers that work some hours for the college.” My heart sank a little further at the less-than-unique public safety.
“And all the dorms are locked. You need a student ID card to get in. Basically, you can’t get in if you don’t belong here.” If it was possible, my heart sank a little further.
“Hey mom?” my 12-year-old whispered. “What if the person who tries to hurt you is another student? Then what?”
Hope abounds! I wasn’t even sure that she was paying attention. It was technically her sister’s visit. She was just being dragged along/offered an opportunity. I wasn’t even sure that she was paying attention other than to count down the minutes until the end of the tour. Low and behold, not only was she attentive, she blew a hole through the simplistic, PR-appropriate response of the Ivy League guide in a few brief seconds.
The mom in me wants to be assured that my daughter will be safe.
I also know that women of all ages are at risk for domestic and sexual violence, and those age 20 to 24 are at the greatest risk of experiencing nonfatal intimate partner violence. Young women age 20 to 24 also experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, followed by those 16 to 19.
That age group. Those rates. Some of those females must be on college campuses. And some of the perpetrators of that violence have ID cards that will get them into my daughter’s dorm.
So, what am I expecting? I understand delivering the PR-appropriate response that satisfies the audience. I’ve written some of those responses. I think I am expecting a more humble honesty. I think I need to know that the risks have been acknowledged. Name them and give them a voice. I don’t expect perfection or false guarantees. I do want you to let me know that you are struggling with these issues and are determined to shine a light on them with the intention of dedicating time, energy, and resources to reducing the risks and making the campus safer… for my daughter and for everyone.
During this Season of Gratitude, I am grateful. I am grateful for honesty. I am grateful for young women who are attentive and willing to question. I am grateful for young women who know the risks, understand the dynamics, and choose to step into that environment anyway and demand their seat in the lecture hall and at the academic table. I am grateful for sometimes knowing too much. And I am grateful for the will to face it and work for better.
Ifeoma U. Aduba