You’re a freshman. You’re walking back from campus late at night with a friend. You know you shouldn’t be walking after dark, but UT Night Rides would take a half hour to pick you up, and you need to get home. As you walk, you notice a man in the shadows. He steps out and starts following you. You and your friend walk faster, but he keeps pace. “I’m going to call 911,” your friend whispers. She clutches a pink bottle in her hand. “Get your mace ready.” Your stomach twists. “I don’t have any.”
There are several programs designed to help keep students safe, such as UT Night Rides, partnerships with ride-sharing services and emergency call boxes. The UT Police Department also offers general safety tips on its website. However, these resources fail to take into account an unsettling reality — sometimes students walk alone at night, even though they know they’re not supposed to. Students need to know how to protect themselves when they are alone at night.
UT should include information about personal self-defense devices, such as mace and handheld alarms, in the information they present to freshmen.
Recommended orientation and move-in packing lists do not mention pepper spray or other self-defense items, nor do UTPD’s safety tips pages. However, many women on campus carry mace. Older friends often advise freshmen to buy mace before starting college, and this suggestion spreads by word of mouth among incoming students.
“One of my friends who’s a sophomore at UT bought my pepper spray for me before I got here,” Plan II and business honors freshman Sreya Ayinala said.
Some women who come from smaller or suburban towns have never needed to carry a personal weapon before.
“I didn’t even think about having it before I came to college,” Ayinala said.
Abigail Partridge, a Plan II and biochemistry freshman, said she never considered carrying a self-defense device until a friend insisted Partridge borrow her pepper spray before going out one evening.
“I bought my own the next day for a sense of security,” Partridge said.
However, recommendations spreading through word of mouth are bound to miss some students.
“Buying mace or an alarm was just something I forgot to do with the business of getting ready for college,” Mary White, Plan II and economics freshman said.
White has yet to buy a self-defense weapon. Her classes’ proximity to her dorm and the ability to take well-lit, busy roads, such as Speedway and Dean Keeton, to get around campus, made her believe she didn’t need to buy an alarm or pepper spray. But White also said that UT’s lack of information about self-defense weapons gave her a false sense of security.
“They talked about using the police call boxes and Sure Rides at orientation, but they never recommended carrying pepper spray,” White said. “I don’t know why they couldn’t include that information. They talk about how to avoid walking home alone, but they don’t talk a lot about how to be prepared if you are out alone and someone attacks you.”
Partridge said that she realized the importance of carrying a self-defense weapon one night when she and a group of friends were followed for several blocks by a transient.
“We were at the far end of the Drag, and this man just started following us,” Partridge said. “We sped up, but he kept pace with us. Eventually, we lost him, but the entire time I was so glad I had my pepper spray with me. While he was chasing us, it was the only thing that made me feel safe.”
Including information about self-defense devices, such as pepper spray or personal alarms on packing lists, at orientation or on the UTPD website will help new students feel and stay safe on campus.
Zaksek is a Plan II and women and gender studies freshman from Allen.