By Debby Shulman
Hannah Wilson, the young lady who was tragically murdered last month at Indiana University, has left an indelible mark on our hearts. As mothers, we mourn for her parents and family, as sisters, we cannot fathom losing our best friend and confidant and as a community, we reel in anger at how perilously dangerous it has become to send our girls off to college. Tales of campus rape and sexual assault, in addition to first-hand reports of raucous college parties gone terribly wrong, appear on the news with such regularity, we are barely able to recover from one story just as another grabs a headline.
What is so different about college life today, and how do we even begin to prepare our girls for the dangerously unexpected?
In recent weeks, college students have published wonderful commentary on campus safety but I believe we need to back it up a bit and remind our girls that together they create a more formidable influence and recognizable force when they stick to the most basic rules of safety in college.
We need a resurgence of Sisterhood.
Bringing it back, Old School. In the days following Hannah Wilson’s disappearance, I found several of my ‘old’ sisters and we talked candidly about how we handled this issue in college. Not such pretty stuff; we all had occasion to drink too much, party too hard, and meander into a dingy fraternity bedroom lacking clarity of thought. But behind each of us stood The Buddy, Our Shadow, and The Wingman.
She never left without you – whether unspoken or agreed upon outright – you left together and came home together.
The understanding between us did not include putting someone in a cab or on public transportation or assuming someone else would take care of it. We treated this responsibility as if it were an oath. No cell phones and long waits for cabs left us without many options. Freshman fraternity pledges were made to walk unescorted girls home from parties, but leaving the library? The union? The bars? You waited until there was someone to walk home with. I vividly remember weaving the maze of study carrels at the undergraduate library…or tiptoeing through the reference room, looking for a familiar face. We all did.
“What time are you leaving?” we would whisper UNTIL we found someone to share the walk.
It didn’t matter if you were close friends or not; walking alone through the quad and on dark, tree-lined streets was never an option. We walked home with people we hardly knew but recognized from the sororities on our street. Together, we knew we were safe.
I didn’t go to college in the center of a large city; I went to college in the center of a big cornfield. But stuff happened and we watched out for each other. The south side of my sorority faced a large dormitory. Late one night without warning, the doorbell rang in our house and several policemen came charging in the door, racing up the stairs. Someone from the dorm next door saw a man climbing up into our house by way of our fire escape. They caught him and arrested him for trespassing. I would like to believe this same thing would happen today … if so many eyes weren’t glued to a phone or computer screen.
We knew to stick together. We need to bring that back.
Technology creates a false sense of security and independence. How many of you talk to your daughters as they walk home alone … just so they’re on the phone with you while they race across campus? Her cell phone is not going to protect her if she is by herself, occupied with your call.
“Text me when you’re home.” NO. Not anymore. Mace out. Pepper spray out. Always.
And while we’re at it, let’s salvage the Sisterhood. Nobody walks alone, ever.
There were plenty of evenings I had my dance on — ruining my best friend’s red cowboy boots, donning my favorite Forenza sweater at a taco and tequila party, having The. Time. Of. My. Life. But then another friend went missing and like that, we were upstairs banging on doors, shouting her name. The Hook-Up Culture (which frequently preys upon intoxicated young women) hadn’t evolved to its current deplorable status, and so we knew (because it was understood) it was our responsibility to get her out.
And we did.
And then she potty-trained my oldest son when he was three. One good turn deserves another.
The Sisterhood meant we occasionally missed out on Last Call at the bars or a party because someone had to get home and onto the cold bathroom floor – and you know what? We didn’t leave then, either. Nobody choked on vomit on our watch. I spent my share of nights holding the hair of someone I loved while they cursed Long Island Iced Teas and a bad burrito from Taco John’s. It was gross and exhausting – but it was Girl Code and we stood by the unspoken agreement. There was no waking up with your underwear off, completely hung over and wondering when you blacked out, because your sister always got you home.
Rape and sexual abuse remain a horrific commentary on the collegiate culture of today. The legacy of abduction leaves an emotional wound that never heals. And while the man charged with Wilson’s murder had no affiliation with Indiana University, the ease with which he disguised himself a friendly cab driver frightens me beyond words. Our girls know dangers lurk in dark alleys and on shady streets…but they are still too naïve to understand the evil and sickness that occupies the decrepit souls of society we don’t talk about at the dinner table.
Those who prey upon young, solitary women who are too intoxicated to protect themselves represent every reason to bring back the bond.
Arm your daughters with enough mace so they have one in the bag and one on the key chain. Teach them to STOP TALKING ON THEIR PHONES WHEN OUT ALONE. Walking without a companion requires our girls to be alert, looking around them at all times. Texting and chatting can wait. Tell your sons to NEVER let a girl walk home alone.
No matter how cold, how far and how drunk she is … get her safely home, go in the cab with her. She is someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, and someone’s sister.
And as far as Uber and private cabs are concerned – I don’t know. I truly don’t. The only way to securely manage the safe-keeping of our most treasured possessions lies with The Sisterhood. Which is why bringing back the buddy system offers the one true way of traveling safely to and from parties, libraries and bars on a college campus. The risk has become too great.
Remembering those who didn’t make it home. Sisters don’t let sisters walk alone.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.