Light Up the Blue: Poor Lighting and Sexual Assault at Boise State University

As you may or may not know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Whether we want to accept it or not, sexual assault happens EVERY DAY. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every year in the United States alone there are around 293,000 victims of sexual assault. What that breaks down to is this: approximately every two minutes another American is sexually assaulted.

Now that you’ve gotten a brief look at the general statistics, I want to bring attention to an issue near and dear to us all: how rape culture is unknowingly encouraged in our society. I understand that this is a HUGE topic to cover, and one article can’t even begin to touch on all of the issues that build to this cumulative issue. However, many people don’t understand the issue until they have a solid example, and that’s what I’m here to provide.

Boise State has a BEAUTIFUL campus, especially in the spring. The green expanse of the Quad, the blooming flowers planted along pathways and in flower beds, the scattering of trees, and the Greenbelt running directly along the northern border…what’s not to love about that?

However, once the sun sinks below the horizon and night sets in, the campus is transformed. That bright, happy feeling that the sunshine and flowers inspires is replaced with paranoia and dread. For such a well-landscaped campus (not to mention one that charges around $7,000 in tuition) there seems to be a shortage of something…

Campus in the evening is DARK. The dim walkways induce fear, and many cases of sexual assault happen on our campus annually, whether reported or not. Just in December the University came to a settlement agreement regarding the sexual assault of two former female university athletes by a male teammate. A friend of mine was also sexually assaulted on campus two years ago.

As recorded by the official Boise State Crime Log, from August 1, 2015 to the most recent update on April 17th, 11 cases of sexual assault, harassment and rape have been reported on campus; five of which have occurred since January 1st.

As told by Annie Kerrick (Director of Title IX* compliance at Boise State) in an interview published by the Arbiter on September 29th, 2015: “We probably, on our campus, have somewhere around 60 rapes happen per year and you see that we’re getting 5-10 reports.”

While it cannot be proven that the lack of sufficient lighting on campus is a direct cause of the high number of sexual assaults at Boise State, it probably doesn’t help. The shadows make it easy to conceal oneself and one’s identity, which could potentially encourage perpetrators by the thought that they won’t be recognized or caught.

From childhood, we are told to avoid strangers, and to never be alone with one. As children, many of us were frightened of the dark and what lurks therein. As a woman, I was taught from a young age to avoid being alone in a public place. More so, I was not EVER to be alone in a poorly lit public area. All of these “lessons” have one thing in common: the encouragement of fear and distrust.

If we’re being completely honest, I do not feel safe on campus at night. Even when I’m not alone, I still feel uneasy and tend to grip my pepper spray a little tighter when walking through the Quad. My friends, female AND male, feel the same way.

While participating in Boise State’s Relay for Life on April 1st, it was very unsettling to be placed in a field just outside the Student Union Building that was so dark you couldn’t see your feet. I don’t feel that I should need a flashlight, lantern or headlamp to be able to clearly see my surroundings on a university campus. There were places on this intramural field that were so dark that I once caught myself imagining being a victim myself, forced into the dark field and assaulted with no one the wiser just yards away from what is considered the hub of campus.

This is wrong.

NO ONE should have to entertain that fear. It shouldn’t even be a possibility. If Boise State University REALLY wants to look out for the best interests of its students, campus would be lit up to near-daylight standards and there would be more of those blue “safety” poles to alert campus security. I know I personally would feel that this was a better use of tuition and tax dollars than buying a lighted “B” to plaster on the side of a building or paying for giant banners for Towers and the Administration Building…

As a matter of fact, one might even go so far as to invoke our Title IX rights. Feeling unsafe on campus certainly does not give students access to an education without the fear of violence or harassment, and even in this case, the students are victims.

So BSU, I challenge you: Light Up the Blue.

 

*Title IX is a section of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities receiving federal funding. It guarantees that ALL students have the right to an education without sex discrimination, including sexual violence and harassment. (notalone.gov)