How to cope when it feels like being a woman in college is unsafe


As an active feminist and typical women’s studies major, who has spent countless hours volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, I would say I have a decent amount of experience talking and hearing about sexual harassment and assault. I have done work to advocate both for myself and for lots of women regarding this issue. But that doesn’t make me feel safe. No amount of work or discussion can prepare you for the feeling of unsafety in your space, no matter the degree of the threat.


I am certain that I am not alone in saying that I have felt unsafe as a woman from time to time since well before college. Depending on where you live, it may feel as though leaving the house at all is like signing into a contract for unwanted attention of some kind. For many women, sexual harassment is kind of a given. It’s something a lot of us become desensitized to. But there is something about facing it on your college campus that feels like an extra infringement on personal space, and can be extra unsettling. Why?


Now, I want to stop here and note that I realize that to some I may sound like an alarmist. But, at least from my own experience, everything I’m saying is true. I only wish I was exaggerating.


I know a lot of women who have said that they have never felt unsafe on their college campus. This common personal anecdote is often amplified and advertised to college peers, and rightly so; hearing that from women is a good thing, it’s hopeful. Looking back to my college tours and application process, I heard this a lot, and I remember finding it comforting. At this point in time, we’ve been having more discussions about rape culture on college campuses. We’ve started to move away from victim blaming. So much progress has been made. But college women are still harassed, assaulted, and raped. Plenty of college women still feel unsafe on their campuses. Those perspectives should be amplified, too.


After a particularly long, frustrating week of misconduct of varying degrees towards myself and my female peers, I’ve been feeling uneasy recently. This unease, this feeling of vulnerability is not something that I can just sit with. And I wouldn’t want any of my peers to think that those feelings aren’t common, or that they have to sit with them either. I can’t say that I have a well-crafted response to this problem or an analysis of it. At the moment, all I can really do is put out a reminder of available resources, and say that if you feel unsafe as a woman in college, well, you aren’t alone. It isn’t okay that you may feel unsafe in your place of learning, but, a lot of us have been there.


Here are some tips, pieces of advice, recommendations, and resources if you ever feel unsafe as a woman here at GW.


1. Talk to a friend.


Sure, this might be obvious, and it’s probably the first thing anyone would tell you, but there’s a reason why! Sitting down with a trusted friend and venting about what’s been on your mind can help you rationalize it. And there’s a good chance they’ll have a helpful response.


2. Think about comforting habits or practices from home, and try to replicate them.


Did you maybe have a stress ball, yoga class, or particular ice cream flavor that helped with distress when you were home? A stress-relieving activity (or food) that also reminds you of the comforts of home might help put you at ease.


3. Put on some ~empowering~ tunes.


This could just be me, but blasting music by some strong females always makes me feel like a strong female. Just try it. Some personal recommendations are literally anything by Beyoncé, God is a woman by Ariana Grande, Just a Girl by No Doubt, Go Gina by SZA, Confidently Lost by Sabrina Claudio, or anything Sleater-Kinney.


4. Don’t forget about campus resources.


Don’t forget about GW’s resources for these issues: the Rape Aggression Defense Program that has self defense classes open to all females, the Sexual Assault Response Consultative Team, which can be reached at (202) 994-7222, or the Office of Victim Services. also has all the info you might need. You can also contact Rory Muhammad, GW’s Title IX Coordinator, at [email protected], Christina Franzino, the Assistant Director for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at [email protected], or Tamara Washington, a Victims' Services Specialist at (202) 994-0443.


5. Look to universal resources.


Finally, if you don’t feel comfortable utilizing resources that have a connection to GW, there are some more universal ones. The DC Rape Crisis Center has a 24/7 hotline: (202) 333-7373, as well as an email contact: [email protected]. There’s also the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network hotline, (1-800) 656-4673.