Friday, September 08, 2006

Safety Say What?

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...


Matt said...

Interesting post regarding personal safety. I'm lucky to live now in a very, let's say, gentile neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, but had some tough incidents while living w/ a girlfriend in D.C.

I was once set upon by four urban "youths" who pulled a gun on me and were then shocked that I could--and would--outrun them. I had a big guy behind me at a Crosby, Still, Nash AND Young concert put me a headlock that caused me to stand absolutely still until he released me--in one movement he could have snapped my neck, and it was a much worse feeling than having the gun to my head.

My girlfriend-at-the-time had several incidents in that neighborhood and was followed and nearly attacked one night. I had to go to a local bar to track down a couple of these guys, carrying a pair of numb-chucks (sic) under my black leather jacket.

Anyway, I'm only 170 but all of that weight is in the right place and I'm built like a boxer and have been told I carry myself like a black man (I blushed).

Anyway, my point is this: I too fear the world. I know enough martial arts to defend myself but I've been scared in certain situations. I can't imagine what it's like to be a woman, not being able to walk through dark alleys at 1 in the morning. But as a man you have wath out for larger men trying to throw their weight around.

But I think most of us get scared sometimes. I am rambling... but I think that's ridiculous that people are trying to enter your "home" without 24 hours notice. You need to really complain about that b/c your fears are definately justified. If I were you, I would get "loud."

ellesappelle said...

It's funny how females mostly and some men do get that freaky feeling, wherever you are in the world. I've always imagined people hiding behind bins or corners (which generally means, as soon as I imagine something, no one will be there). There's kind of a feeling in my country that nothing will happen, it's safe, and you're just being paranoid. All the same, crime is on the increase here, just as it is everywhere. My university has no such thing as call boxes; it merely has recommended walking routes for night-time. To be honest, I think if you stayed on these routes you'd be fine. But a week or so ago a girl decided to take a short cut over the sports grounds and got raped. A bit scary when it's something that could so easily happen to anyone who was in a bit of a hurry.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It's scary that some think they should be allowed into a young woman's place where she lives in the view of the current climate.

captain corky said...

Last week when I was in New York City my friend's car got broken into. When we first parked it I had a "funny" feeling about the street. I chose to ignore that feeling, and as a result when we got back all of our stuff was gone.

I dismissed that feeling almost as fast as it came. Should've listened...

Nihilistic said...

I got so distracted by the fact that two Starship Captains are commenting here that I forgot what I was going to say...And I also remember that I need to do laundry as well...

"Angeldust" said...

Ouch slskeyon!
Personal safety issues are important. I can see though that the Brits look at safety issues differently as they police also differently than in most of the world.
They are not anticipating the problem because their points of reference are different.

What I find incredibly odd, to say the least, if only from the “manners” point of view… is that maintenance staff or any other staff does not have clear ID tags (or some sort of uniform) and, notices of work to be done are not posted in common/visible areas or electronically distributed to students. It is, in my view, a matter of respect.
Unless there is an emergency, there is no justification from anyone “to intrude” in your private space, any time of the day.

It is very telling that you have become accustomed to such great security installation.

I have not notice any such installations at UBC I during my visits, and it is a huge and rather isolated campus at the tip of the peninsula… We do live in different “worlds”, even here in NA! I imagine the U of T campus must have much more and visible security…

Now, about the “wacky bags” – YES - I love you keep your keen eyes out for them.

You will be fine, you are “aware”
Take good care
Joy and peace to you this weekend

Crashtest Comic said...

I fart waaaaaaaay to much.

Ched said...

Very interesting.

Bridget said...

I know this post was about so much more than what I'm about to say, but I can't help it, it blows my mind. I can't believe you can't carry mace! What's that about? If they are not going to let you arm yourself with a debilitating spray than they should at least up security measures or give you a taser.

enoch9 said...

Ive been assaulted and robbed several times, so being cautious has become second nature. But i continue to take risks that my friends find inexplicable.

You have to trust your instincts- they are there for a reason. But judgements ought to be constructed upon all available facts.

Leisus said...

A good read

Anonymous said...

I delivered pizza for 10 years while working my way through college and before when I was just working. I have always been paranoid about being robbed, assulted, or uninvited man love. BUt I know how you feel. I never was robbed, by there were attempts. Thats where the paranoia did pay off IMO.

In the words of the X-files- Question Everything!