Survey indicates female students fear walking home alone

Sunday, November 13, 2016 - 6:46pm

The Michigan Daily administered a women’s health survey, to 1,000 randomly selected respondents at the University of Michigan campus. There were 147 respondents, with 115 self-identifying as female.

The following article includes data collected in this survey, particularly with regard to safety on campus.

When Jocelyn Aptowitz, a dual-enrolled School of Music, Theatre & Dance and now-LSA junior, was a freshman, a man in a car asked her for directions while she was walking back from a rehearsal at the Student Theatre Arts Complex around Hoover Street in 2014.

She said the man followed close behind in his vehicle and eventually exited the car pantsless, wearing nothing from the waist down.

Once Aptowitz saw the man touching himself, she said she quickly walked away and called the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security as well as the Ann Arbor Police Department. She received a quick response from officials, who later found and identified the man.

“There’s something so unsettling and degrading about it,” Aptowitz said of the incident. “The lines of body autonomy and, I think, safety, specifically, get blurred sometimes, but you’re definitely more aware of it after you experience it firsthand.”

Aptowitz's sentiments are far from unique on campus.

In a survey administered to female students by The Michigan Daily, 73.11 percent of respondents said they were afraid to walk home alone on campus. 17.65 percent said they did not and 9.24 percent said they were unsure.

In a campus climate survey administered by the University to both male and female students in 2015, 89 percent of students reported feeling safe from sexual misconduct on campus.

Bill Axinn, a national expert on survey research at the University Population Studies Center, said there could be a number of reasons for the discrepancies in the datasets. Axinn said in addition to the differences in wording — the University survey asked if students “felt safe from sexual misconduct on campus” while the Daily survey asked if students “felt afraid to walk home alone on campus” — a small sample size in the Daily’s survey and a tendency for respondents to agree with questions asked could be errors present in both surveys.

Despite the differences between the two surveys, multiple female students like Aptowitz have voiced concerns for their safety at night, and attributed some of that to specific areas of campus where lighting is insufficient.

Much like Aptowitz, LSA sophomore Vianney Flores said she has taken steps during her time at the University to avoid vulnerable situations, especially when she lived in Baits II Residence Hall dorms on North Campus her freshman year. She said she only left at night if it couldn’t be avoided because she was weary of the nearby wooded areas, which do not have much surrounding lighting.

This year, she lives in Alice Lloyd Residence Hall, a location closer than North Campus, but still a 10-minute walk from the Diag.

“Especially if it’s dark, I don’t really feel comfortable walking by myself,” Flores said. “I do it, but I’m always extremely cautious when I do. If there’s anyone walking behind me, I have no problems checking if it’s a guy or a girl — if you think I'm being suspicious of you, I am, because it’s my safety.”

Originally from Chicago, Flores said she is used to living in a big city environment and, though she feels more secure in Ann Arbor, she is still cautious.

“I’m super aware of bushes when I’m walking around,” Flores said. “If someone just put their hand over my mouth and hid me in the bush, no one would know I was there if someone was walking around. I’m always aware of that.”

Call for action

Though Aptowitz said she appreciated the quick action from DPSS and AAPD following her incident, it led to her start carrying pepper spray and a small sharp object for the remainder of her freshman year.

Because Aptowitz said she does not believe there has not been enough effort put toward campus safety from the University, she thinks increased lighting would make her feel more at ease.

“Ever since this (incident), I will stand at blue lights and you’re supposed to see blue lights from every blue light and that’s just actively untrue on campus,” Aptowitz said. “But the thing is, we tell people that on our tours, and that’s what’s frustrating. If we’re going to advertise that we’re a campus that has that safety, we should have that safety.”

Despite efforts last year, Central Student Government ultimately was unable to make headway in initiatives aimed at increasing off-campus security measures through the installation of more streetlights.

In an April CSG meeting, then-CSG President Cooper Charlton attributed the failure in installation and improvement to both the cost as well as a lack of relationship between the city of Ann Arbor and CSG.

“We ran into two issues: the first problem is that it can cost as much as $400,000 to $600,000 per corridor for installation, so assessing the finances of the operation was a hurdle that we were unable to overcome,” Charlton said at the meeting. “The other problem that we faced was with cooperation from the city.”

In addition to these efforts, last April about five students started a petition to install cameras on the blue light phones located throughout campus. More than 200 students eventually signed the position, noting concern for identifying a potential attacker.

 However, the city of Ann Arbor has come up with a plan to spend $200,000 on new street lights near Nixon and Dhu Varren Roads, Washtenaw Avenue and Division and East University Streets, following a lift on a moratorium on new streetlights last year by City Council.

CSG also outlined goals last year to develop another campus safety app in conjunction with previous projects such as SafeRide — a free service that transports students, faculty and staff within a one-mile radius of campus — and Night Owl, yet they were unable to follow through, again due to lack of resources. However, other organizations and students started to take on these projects themselves, including five Ross School of Business students who developed the now-internationally recognized Companion app.

For LSA freshman Alexis Aulepp — though she uses some of the same cautionary measures as Aptowitz and Flores — the availability of these applications is not necessarily needed, as she said she has not experienced anything since coming to the University that would be cause for concern.

Unlike Aptowitz, both Flores and Aulepp — who lives in Alice Lloyd — said they have not experienced any issues warranting their fears and do not carry any protective device, such as a whistle, pepper spray or a weapon, while they walk around campus.

“Had nobody said anything, I would have felt just fine, but because people say don’t walk alone, that has made me be a little more self-conscious about those types of things,” Aulepp said. “Multiple people have told me 'don’t walk alone.' ”

Even still, neither Aulepp nor Flores have used University resources — primarily because they are unaware of how to use them — calling for the University to provide better education for the services.

University response

University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown said, while the University of Michigan Police Department preferred not to comment about gendered security measures, there are reasons behind there being less lighting in certain areas beyond the Diag. Brown noted that she has spoken with engineers who look into optimizing lighting precisely about this issue.

“What good lighting infrastructure placement looks toward is how to keep someone from becoming suddenly, if you will, blinded,” Brown said. “Good lighting placement says that lighting should be fairly significant just outside the door of (popular) facilities and then get a little less as you go farther away from the building because that lighting works with (the way your pupils are changing). You want this gradual change in the lighting system outside as well.”

Brown added that lighting should be better at places with high nighttime traffic, and dimmer in more deserted areas near buildings where people are sleeping, so as to detract people from congregating in areas intended to be quieter.

UMPD Police Chief Robert Neumann said part of the University’s improvements in overall safety on campus have been related to increasing properly working lighting, noting the department encourages student input.

“I don’t think too many people are seeing lights that aren’t working, and that’s something years ago that used to be a common problem,” Neumann said. “If there are areas that students think should be better lighted, I certainly want to hear about it.”

In addition, there are several other measures currently in place to address student concerns, particularly through Neumann’s collaboration with CSG and safety committees.

Public Policy junior Stephanie Gusching, current chair of CSG Community and Outreach Commission, attested to Neumann’s efforts and said CSG wants to initiate partnerships between the University and the city to continue to try to improve off-campus lighting and increase sexual assault resources for women this year.

“We want to look into more crime statistics in the area to see where off-campus lighting is lacking to see if improving lighting would end up actually affecting the safety in the area,” Gusching said. “If we can find a correlation, I think that that would be a strong argument in our case in improving off-campus lighting.”