A Call For Campus Safe Walks To Protect Victims Of Stalking

The following blog post, by Dr. Meghan Krausch (bio at the end), is only being published on our site, ConditionallyAccepted.com rather than on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (IHE). Meg is one of multiple bloggers contributing to our ongoing blog series on sexual violence in academia who have been asked by IHE to publish anonymously or pseudonymously for fear of a lawsuit or retaliation from the bloggers’ colleagues, department, and/or university. (Some have obliged, while others refused and withdrew their blog post from the series.) Meg has refused, opting to publish the essay here without anonymity. In what follows, Meg reflects on being stalked by a student, and calls for campus safe walks to better protect fellow victims of stalking.

Stalking on Campus: Safe Walks, Not Security

During the last week of classes of the fall 2016 semester, one of my students did something that I recognized as a stalking behavior. In the two months that followed, I exchanged dozens of emails and had several meetings with upper-level administrators on my campus about the stalking. However, almost nothing has changed.

I told my Dean and department colleagues that I no longer felt safe going anywhere on campus alone because I was being stalked and did not want to be murdered at my workplace. I was not being dramatic; murder is a real risk for someone being stalked — something I confirmed with two nationally recognized experts as I constructed safety plans. I spent the first month of the spring 2017 semester fighting with my university for accompaniment by security officers at low traffic times on campus. The university never expelled or suspended the student who stalked me; on the contrary, the administrators responsible for working directly with the student have worked hard to encourage him to continue his studies.

Throughout the semester, he attended classes as usual. Upper-level university officials in charge of security repeatedly told me that, if I was “that afraid,” then I could feel free to carry pepper spray to work because it is legal in my state. Further, they said that there is simply inadequate security to guarantee any response for anyone at 7pm at night (when my class ended); so I should, in no way, have relied on campus security to escort me or otherwise.

In the midst of all of this, eight people in my life so far — all women — have mentioned to me that they have also been stalked at some point in their lives, including one of the administrators in this conversation. It is not as though this is an isolated phenomenon or that I am the only person who will ever face this problem on my campus. Indeed, 6.6 million people are stalked each year in the U.S. according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. Looking at these numbers, it is obvious that this has likely happened before and it will happen again on my campus. By refusing to make any institutional policies or changes, the university specifically avoided setting a precedent for a situation that will certainly occur again.

Is More Security the Answer — Especially for Feminists?

I am an antiracist feminist who believes de-policing is the only path to a just society. I am also an anarchist and sociologist who centers my thinking on populations who have consistently been marginalized by states and by police (which, after all, have their roots in slave patrols). As such, my understanding is that more police make a situation more dangerous rather than safer. However, the immediate need for escorting as a stalking victim put me in what felt like an outright contradiction: pushing for more security on campus. My fierce advocacy with the university on behalf of my own safety seemed to be just another example of “white feminism” — a betrayal of my previous work with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Make no mistake, the institution, as an employer, has a responsibility to guarantee me a safe workplace — one that is free from stalking. And, I do not think a prison-abolitionist feminist position requires me to relinquish that. However, it is important for feminists to recognize that we do not need to turn a call for safety into a regressive call for more law and order on our campuses, but can instead turn to another model which already exists on many campuses: safe walks. Stalking victims and others do not necessarily need a uniformed officer as an escort. All we really need is an additional person whose whereabouts are known to a central dispatch and who is equipped with a flashlight and a link to emergency services to walk us from place to place. Although it was easy for me to become caught up in the existing logic of asking for “security,” what is really needed is a proliferation of dedicated safe walk services like those that exist on many campuses already.

A safe walk service provides something closer to what a de-policed community looks like: community members connected to and looking out for each other in an organized way. And, there is no reason to wait until someone is actively being stalked to put this service in place because we can be sure that someone will need it in the future. If my campus had a safe walk service available, I could have begun using it immediately on the day that the situation began. This would have saved two months of meetings in which I tried to make plans for how I was going to get from class to class, to say nothing of the emotional toll I experienced during this period.

It is important to clarify that a dedicated safe walk service is much better than a system wherein the campus security suggest that they provide escorting to anyone upon request. One major difference is that campus security may not necessarily be prepared or staffed to provide the service (which is what happened in my case) and another difference is, of course, the one I argued above: one service is provided by a shadow police force while a safe walk is a community service.

Like most academic readers, when I imagined the challenges that I would face in my teaching career, I did not imagine stalking. I never imagined the sheer emotional exhaustion of having to make a daily safety plan with my department chair for accompaniment to each of my classes in order to be safe from my stalker in the halls of my building. In fact, I actually worked with stalking victims before I was an academic and had a sense of how common stalking is, but I still did not really think it would happen to me. I did not understand just how ill-prepared my institution was to deal with this situation. As a survivor, I am certain that if a safe walk service had simply been available on campus, then it would have been of invaluable assistance for me.

My story is one example, but I imagine that there are many people on campus in a variety of situations who could make good use of this service if it were simply available to them, without having to spend hours advocating for themselves and proving that they are in active danger as I needed to do. Safe walk services could be useful, for example, to students, faculty, and staff who are in fear when the threat of racist, xenophobic, or queer-bashing violence is on the rise on or near campus. (Think, for example, of the way some communities escorted women who wear hijabs immediately after the 9/11 attacks.) Advocating for safe walks is another case in which advocating for a service for “extreme” situations (e.g., stalking victims) would enhance the campus environment for everyone.

(Note: be sure to read Meg’s follow-up essay on advice for supporting a colleague who is being stalked on campus.)

Author’s Bio:

Meghan Krausch is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Meg studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization.

On Being “Conditionally Accepted” in Academia

Note: This essay was originally published as the inaugural blog post for our Inside Higher Ed career advice column for marginalized scholars

Photo adapted from Gustav Aagesen (http://bit.ly/1er9wGk)

Photo adapted from Gustav Aagesen (http://bit.ly/1er9wGk)

In July 2013, I launched a blog called Conditionally Accepted — an online space for scholars on the margins of academe. At the time, I was beginning my new position as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond and had just finished the six-year chapter of graduate school at Indiana University. The blog reflected the growing rage I felt about the reality of injustice and inhumanity in the academy. After six years of microaggressions, undermining my career choices and activism, and the resultant mental health problems of these experiences, I decided to break my silence. I wanted to begin writing the stories and advice that were not available to me as I struggled to navigate graduate school and the academic job market.

When I first created Conditionally Accepted, I defined its scope as a space for marginalized scholars in academe, including women scholars, scholars of color, immigrant scholars, LGBTQ scholars, working-class scholars, first-gen scholars, fat scholars, scholars with disabilities, and scholars who are religious and nonreligious minorities. Today, members of these groups are subject to regular bias, discrimination, harassment, violence, isolation and exclusion — regardless of their discipline or career stage. Some experience an additional kind of devaluation and exclusion: intellectual oppression. That is, scholarship on these communities is devalued, either treated as inferior to “mainstream” research or even seen as suspect (biased or “activist” research). This is particularly strong in fields (like my own, sociology) in which it seems that the majority of scholars buy into the myth of objectivity or “value-free” science.

The phrase “Conditionally Accepted” is more than play on words familiar to academics who publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. It reflects the feeling of being accepted in the academy on the condition that one does little to challenge the academic status quo. One might just barely get ahead with few challenges as a black scholar on the condition that one avoids research on black people or other people of color — especially any work using a critical race framework — not to mention any sort of service or advocacy that threatens the racist status quo in higher education.

In my graduate training, I learned that being queer was a supposedly a nonissue in sociology — and I should keep it that way when deciding which kinds of topics to pursue in my research. White, middle-class, heterosexual, “normal weight,” cis men without disabilities who do research on people who look just like themselves (but, of course, under the guise of “mainstream” research) are not accused of doing “me-search” or being biased. Nor do they struggle to the extent that marginalized scholars do to get published in their discipline’s top journals or to secure grant dollars or obtain tenure-track jobs. These are privileges not readily afforded to marginalized scholars, especially those who conduct marginalized research, and especially if it appears to threaten the status quo in academe.

In the two years since its creation, Conditionally Accepted has grown in scope, readership and visibility. The original concerns of discrimination, harassment, violence, bias, and limited and exclusive professional standards continue to regularly appear in blog posts. New topics have emerged: service, particularly serving one’s own and local communities; alternative and devalued career paths (e.g., liberal arts, #altac); pressing labor issues in the academe, including the overreliance on poorly paid and exploited adjunct faculty; self-care, health and work-life balance; professional development and career advice; growing threats to academic freedom; and, making academe accessible (e.g., open access, blogging, intellectual activism).

Some of these issues disproportionately affect marginalized scholars. For example, recent challenges to academic freedom have mostly targeted women scholars of color who write publicly about racism, sexism and classism. Other issues are pertinent to all academics but reflect disenchantment with academic standards and traditions that no longer reflect their needs, experiences, values and opportunities. Some of Conditionally Accepted‘s growth reflects the reality that most academics are not actually “inside higher ed” in the traditional sense — that is, on the tenure track or tenured.

One of the best things to happen for Conditionally Accepted is its move to Inside Higher Ed. This change affords the blog a much wider readership, among other opportunities (like the ability to compensate guest bloggers). However, I must acknowledge that moving an unapologetically radical blog to a mainstream website is also scary. I’ve been assured that Inside Higher Ed does not expect a change in the content or tone of Conditionally Accepted and, more important, that Inside Higher Ed will not censor its bloggers. (I would have immediately declined the offer if strings were attached.) But I’d be lying if I said the change in my imagined audience won’t at least indirectly influence a change in the blog’s content. The very academics whom the blog regularly criticizes and implicates in injustice may now begin reading. I can already envision the kinds of comments we’ll probably be receiving from now on!

Mainstream home or not, Conditionally Accepted remains radical, even by its very existence. It continues to serve as a reminder that meritocracy and objectivity are, for the most part, myths in the academy. The column will regularly offer personal narratives of experiences of injustice and inhumanity in academe, letting other marginalized scholars know that they aren’t alone and providing tips on how to survive and thrive. It lets grad students and junior scholars know that there is more than one way to be a successful academic and that fulfilling and flourishing careers exist outside of academe, too. It challenges unhealthy, exclusive and oppressive traditions and norms in higher ed.

Most radical of all, Conditionally Accepted affirms that being accepted by mainstream academe as a marginalized scholar is overrated. Like embracing black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins’s “outsider-within” status, the only effective path to liberation isn’t to be accepted by privileged academics, appeasing their conditions. It is to define one’s academic career on one’s own terms and envision a new way to be an academic in the 21st century.

We’re movin’ on up. Conditionally Accepted is now officially a biweekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. We hope our loyal readers will continue to read, comment on and share our blog posts and that we will gain more readers through the transition. Many (hopefully most) of our guest bloggers will continue to contribute.

We are also pleased to welcome new bloggers. If you have an idea for a post that fits within our vision and mission — in particular, advancing the careers and well-being of marginalized scholars and, in so doing, elevating oppressed communities inside and outside the ivory tower — please email us at conditionally.accepted@insidehighered.com. We look forward to hearing and sharing the narratives of the “conditionally accepted” inside (and outside) of academe.