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.

A Space For Me In Feminist Activism?

In recent years, I have either stayed clear of women’s and feminist groups I presume to offer a safe space for women, or ask outright whether they are intended to be a safe space before I begin participating.  Feminism is not intended to offer something to me as a man, so I acknowledge and respect that much of it is not necessarily a space for me.

via The Retriever Weekly (UMBC)

2005 Take Back the Night Rally at UMBC.
I am in the funky blue shirt, holding a sign, on the left side of the picture.

Men’s Pro-Feminist Groups

It appears that others know well that men’s place in feminist activism is a precarious one.  I am aware of a few groups — some pro-feminist, some for sexual violence prevention — that are run by and for men who wish to advocate for gender equality and eliminate violence against women. (Thus, I am not confusing these with “men’s rights” groups, that advocate for advancing men’s status in society even further.)  There are also resources like The Guy’s Guide to Feminism that are produced for and by men to better understand feminism, gender inequality, and sexism.

I am uncertain of the particular histories of these kinds of groups.  Were they started because feminist women effectively articulated a need to have groups that serve as a safe space for women?  Did men feel out of place in these kinds of groups?  Or, are (some) men aware that the kind of advocacy they would pursue would be qualitatively different — for example, more inviting to men, and possibly even more influential among men as a whole?

My Involvement In Men’s Pro-Feminist Groups

I understand the significance of pro-feminist groups for men.  But, I initially felt no particular draw to such groups.  A few years ago, I did actually become involved in one — not necessarily by my own decision-making.

I became involved with a local sexual violence prevention organization as a graduate student.  The organization also served as a rape crisis center and shelter for women (and their young children) fleeing abusive partners.  Understandably, the organization limited the number of volunteer positions that men could hold in order to maintain a safe space.  But, that meant my involvement was constrained to external programming, namely sexual violence prevention education in local schools.  Since that ended up not working for my schedule, I was invited to help start a group, “Man Up!”, for men to raise awareness about and eliminate sexual violence.

I knew from the start that I felt out of place in Man Up!  Even the group’s name symbolizes the emphasis on men‘s involvement.  I did my best to stick with it, but slowly drifted out of the group until I was no longer participating at all.  I dreaded meeting with other men — especially straight men — about gender politics.  I was not enthusiastic about reaching out to young men about healthy relationships and consensual sex — presumably heterosexual relationships and sex.  And, even the perspective of the group — men‘s sexual violence prevention advocacy — felt distant from my feminist politics.

Fortunately, I moved to another external project — healthy romantic and sexual relationships among young gay, bisexual, and trans men — and stuck with that until I had to focus exclusively on my dissertation.

Invisible In Men’s Pro-Feminist Groups

This summer, I had the pleasure of meeting a bright undergraduate student who presented a paper on men’s anti-sexual violence groups at the American Sociological Association.  From my own experiences, I had assumed it was just me; because of my gender politics and genderqueer identity, I feel uncomfortable in predominantly-male spaces.  But, this student pointed out larger problems with these groups.

In particular, (some of) these groups are founded upon whiteness and heteronormativity.  They are created for heterosexual men to have healthy, consensual relationships with their women partners.  Advice like, “just don’t rape your girlfriend or wife!”, presumes that all men participants are engaging in heterosexual relationships.  What about bisexual, queer, and gay men?  Similarly, advice to check one’s white privilege erases men of color who are involved in pro-feminist and sexual violence prevention advocacy.  So, as a queer man of color, I often walk away from these groups for men feeling invisible.

The student also pointed out the missing structural and cultural perspectives of these groups.  The flip of blaming women for their own victimization is to blame individual men for perpetrating violence and discrimination against women.  There is inattention, then, to the ways in which organizations and institutions reproduce sexism and to the larger rape cultureSystemic problems cannot be properly addressed with individual behaviors.

Carving Out My Own Space

I suppose the starting point to finding a space for myself in feminist activism is a recognition that it cannot be a space for men.  It has to be a space that explicitly acknowledges queer men’s social location in our sexist and heterosexist society.  We are still privileged as men, albeit disadvantaged by trans-, bi-, and/or homophobia.  It is a major oversight to assume that queer men are immune to sexism and free of male privilege.  Sadly, I did not find much on queer men’s feminist advocacy, so I created a short essay, “A Gay Guy’s Guide To Feminism – A Brief Introduction.”  But, even these initial efforts fail to directly address my perspective and experiences as a person of color, and a fat person.

Black Gays for Justice and Respect

In some ways, I feel I should still participate in groups where I am the only man, only queer person, only person of color — or even only queer man of color — to ensure that my perspective is reflected.  But, in others, I need to acknowledge that a focus solely on gender simply does not fit for my perspective — one that is is inherently intersectional.  I do not fit as a fat brown queer man, not simply because I hold these identities, but because of the worldview that is shaped by the intersections among them.  I suppose at best, I can collaborate with feminists and be an ally to women; but, the space in which I will be most instrumental, and feel most comfortable, is one that advocates for human rights, with explicit attention to the intersections among racism, sexism, classism, fatphobia, transphobia, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, and xenophobia.  I suppose I found the answer to my question.