Some recent moments:
It's about 1am in England, and finally, it isn't raining or immediately threatening to do so, so I decide to tackle the ever present and ever increasing pile of laundry in the basket on the far end of my room. The laundry fascilities are actually quite a distance away across a few parking lots, so I hoist the basket over my shoulder and begin the Exodus-like march to the one-story, brick building with the Halifax College coat of arms on the front. As soon as I get there and unload the heavy basket with a huff to the floor, I notice the prices on the washing machines and driers have changed--and of course, this isn't a reduction in price, either. I no longer have enough change on me to wash my clothes, so I have to walk all the way back to my room and count out more from my store of "useable" British coins (which does not include 5, 2 or 1 pence pieces). On my way back out the door, I see a middle-aged guy that I do not recognize on his way around the corner of the path, and apparently, about to enter my portion of the building. I give him an odd, contemplative look, and I let the door shut behind me on purpose. This meets with a gruff "thanks for holding the door" from him as he is forced to bring out his key card and open the door himself.
Another occasion--it's morning. Since I had been up late the previous night putting together a chapter for my dissertation in order to hand it in to my supervisor, it is about 1o am, and I'm still sleeping. Then, an unexpected knock comes on my door. I manage a "hello?" from my lying on the bed. The unknown individual either was not daunted or did not hear me, and proceeded to try and open the door with one of the universal room keys the college loans out to personnel. This prompted an immediate and far more adament response from me, which came in the form of, "WHO is it?!" I finally receive a response, but it isn't an offer of any form of personal identification. Instead, I hear an equally adament reply from a man, "Open the door." Excuse me? I was annoyed to no end. My reply was "WHO are you? I'm not just opening this door." I couldn't believe I had to spell that out to anyone with a functioning brain. Finally, the man insisted that he was simply coming through the hallway to limescale the bathrooms. I get up and open the door myself--no way is he going to barge in on his own time. I look at him, myself covered in a blanket. He seems to have this sudden revelation about why I wasn't thrilled by his address. I open the door and tell him that I will wait in the kitchen until he is done, and then return to my room.
So, what do these random snapshots have in common? It's a simple question of personal safety.
Years ago, I took a course in 18th Century Literature with a woman professor who also taught courses in Feminist Literary Theory. In class one day, she told us about a scenario she put forth to the other class, which had both guy and girl pupils in it. She asked if anyone had ever felt intimidated in any environment they had been in for no apparent reason--like they may have been in the dark, for example, but clearly without anyone around. The guys responded by proposing situations where they had been intimidated, but there was always a reason--the immediate presence of someone nearby who was unknown to them, for example. The girls were different--they described experiences where there were no immediate threats, but they still felt intimidated by what may be lurking behind a corner, for example. The point is that the latter experience is very much a part of a woman's consciousness, and it is something that men do not seem to be able to comprehend--there has to be a reason for them, while for women, a "bad feeling" is enough.
At Holy Cross, since the college was not in a city well-known for its personal safety rating, there were "call boxes" everywhere on campus. You could find one simply by looking for the poles with the blue lights on them. As soon as you picked up the phone, you didn't even have to touch a button--you were immediately transfered to Public Safety on the line. Public safety also did regular rounds through the campus by car and on foot, the officer on duty required to go around the school entirely once an hour. There were similar call boxes on every door to every building on campus. If you wanted to enter the campus through the front gate, you had to stop at a booth and explain your business to an officer there. Of course this system wasn't perfect and there were mishaps on campus like there are on any other in any situation. However, safety was present in an immediate sense.
I cannot give as high a rating to the University of York in this category--in fact, the score isn't even close. Here, there is a "porter's lodge" at every "college" in the university, but they aren't staffed 24 hours a day save one or two. There is no clear extension to call the closest lodge to you posted anywhere, and if you do wish to call them, you have to, not only look up the number online, but you may also have to "dial out" of the college network phone system to reach them given the U of York has so obviously sold out to the Dog N Bone phone service. If I said the term "call box" to the security officers on campus, it would be more than simply a dissent between English and American forms of the spoken language that would produce a questioning look. Given this country is against any forms of "anti-social" behavior, even if it comes in the form of something that may assist me in protecting myself, I cannot carry mace on me, and the solution that has been suggested to me is some kind of loud beacon I can buy, and if I am in trouble, I can set it off (Ok, people, DUMB idea--first, that requires someone come and find the beacon, and as you know from listening to endless car alarms go off with no one in sight reacting to them, that doesn't exactly bring about the correct response. In addition, unless I am deaf, the loud sound meant to distract and incapacitate my attacker would do the same to me, limiting my ability to get away--brilliant plan). So, I am already "on my own" technically before we start.
Although public safety leaves much to be desired here (and the porters are very nice people who do their jobs well, so it isn't their fault the system they work for is deficeint), the biggest problem is the creation of situations that may end up compromising. How do I know that the guy on the other side of the door is really a University employee, or just some random guy who managed to get a hold of a U of York polo shirt and a room key if no one has notified me otherwise? That isn't the first time that scenario has occured, either. Any one of them could have taken advantage of a vulnerable situation. I am usually caught-off guard, and even if I insist otherwise, their keys let them in my room regardless of my protests. It would take one situation one time with one less-than-admirable person for someone to possibly be hurt or compromised.
I have lived on my own fairly often throughout my life, and I have prided myself on identifying and avoiding compromising situations for myself. However, what makes me nervous is the idea that I am being placed in potentially compromising situations that I have no control over. It has actually made me more nervous than before--every morning at about the same time, I almost anticipate that knock on my door that save on three or four occasions, has never come. Regardless, I have to be honest and say that it upsets me that I have spent such a long time doing everything I can to ensure my own safety that it angers me that it hasn't been acknowledged that this could change that in a wrong place, wrong time scenario. All it is going to take is one time, and then this University will be forced to reassess the situation, and God forbid, spend some money to fix it. I just don't want to be that one person who makes the sacrifice to enlighten an establishment that prides itself on enlighening others.
Back to my exciting Friday night programming, and Chapter 2 of this ridiculous dissertation...