Editor’s note and trigger warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault.
Many women who attend Dalhousie University say they are hesitant to register for classes in the evening, due to the unease they experience when walking around campus after dark.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 30 percent of women above the age of 15 will experience sexual assault, and police reports from 2011 showed an average of one sexual assault per day in HRM. This leaves little room to wonder why many women feel unsafe at night in Halifax.
The feeling of unease
Lindsey Burgess, a fifth-year earth science student at Dalhousie, said while she has never been approached when walking to or from class at night, she has still “definitely felt unsafe.”
“If I’m not with somebody, I’ve noticed myself being hyperaware,” said Burgess. “I’ve definitely done the classic keys between your fingers, scanning everyone who’s around, if they’re by themselves, their body language.”
Jasmine Rana, a second-year commerce student at Dalhousie said she has also felt “super uneasy” when walking alone on campus at night. She has even avoided registering for evening classes that end late.
“I actually was wanting to take a psychology course, but the lecture started at 7 p.m. and that freaked me out, so I didn’t take it,” said Rana.
Dal’s current support
Dalhousie University has some measures in place for individuals who may encounter threatening situations. Including 24 hour security, DalSAFE direct call buttons around campus to access security, and the DalSAFE app that allows security to track a student’s route or a direct chat or call with a member from security.
The Dalhousie Gazette requested an interview with Dalhousie’s Sexualized Violence Advisor, Lyndsay Anderson to discuss the issue. The request was redirected to Dalhousie’s Media Relations and Issues Management, who provided a statement via email.
The statement said that students should download the DalSAFE app to use in case of emergency, and to call security or 9-1-1 if an individual witnesses an urgent situation.
While these measures can be effective, Rana believes that these features have not been properly communicated.
“I know they have the app. But honestly, I don’t think that these features and safety things have been communicated well enough. I didn’t even know about [the DalSAFE buttons] until now. So that makes me question whether or not they would actually be effective in an emergency,” said Rana.
Burgess also thinks that these resources may not be the most effective.
“I don’t know if I would ever actually use the Dal resources. If it is a true emergency, I’d just call 9-1-1,” said Burgess.
Re-thinking personal responsibility and safety
The University of King’s College’s Sexual Health and Safety Officer, Jordan Roberts, sat down for an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette to discuss the hesitation and concern women feel about attending evening classes.
For those seeking advice on how to better protect themselves in the dark, Roberts said that “a buddy system is always nice,” to make oneself feel more comfortable.
However, Roberts said the responsibility should not be placed on an individual to keep themselves safe.
“I’m always so wary of any messaging around safety that comes down to what the individual has to do to protect themselves,” said Roberts.
“We’ve had this culture where it’s about how to be safe at bars, cover your drink, and don’t go alone,” Roberts said. “We put so much responsibility on people to keep themselves safe, and we don’t put as much emphasis on how we need to be responsible for how we treat others and how we create safe environments for other people.”
While Roberts is a member of King’s faculty, she and Anderson work very close together on certain issues regarding students’ safety. Because of this, she can help advise students from both schools, as can Anderson.
“There is no wrong way to disclose. That’s the approach Lyndsay [Anderson] and I take. We always want to make sure that people are going to the right space that they are looking for,” said Roberts.
If you feel that you are in a threatening situation on campus, you can call Dalhousie’s security team at (902) 494-4109 or 9-1-1 if the situation is urgent.
If you are a survivor of any sexualized crime, Jordan Roberts or Lyndsay Anderson are available to help you. Roberts can be contacted at 902-229-6123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Anderson can be reached at Lyndsay.Anderson@dal.ca.