Back in the dark ages when I was in college, female students at most colleges and universities, including mine, had what we called “hours.” If memory serves me correctly, at my school they had to be in their dormitories or sorority houses by 10:30 Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
That, of course, was before coed dorms and enlightened views about equal privileges between men and women, which, let me make clear, I support in nearly every instance. The theory for the women’s curfew was that while anyone with half a brain even then understood that women were generally smarter than men, they were vulnerable physically and subject to unfair assaults on their reputations if not their bodies.
All this came to mind recently with the frightening disappearance of a young University of Virginia student, Hannah Graham, while out for a night of partying with friends. Videos show her wandering confused on a downtown street, a man following behind. It has been a scene repeated over and over on campuses or in college towns throughout the country. Each report of one heightens the stress on those of us who have daughters or granddaughters (as is my case) who have left the protective nest for the adventure of higher education.
These events seldom end well and when added to the concern about the apparent mounting number of alleged rapes and assaults on college women, they have stimulated an intense dialogue all the way to the White House where the president just recently called for academia to clean up its act not only in prosecuting sexual assaults but safeguarding students in the first place.
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Many of the victims are away from home for the first time and it is their natural inclination to take advantage of the situation. It certainly was for me. The problem is that there is no one around to make or prevent them from doing anything — study, drink, participate in dangerous sex, or even walk alone. They must rely on their own judgment reinforced by what they have been taught.
The risk is increased exponentially by the easy access to liquor and drugs that stimulate the libido, including marijuana. Anyone who thinks campuses aren’t chocked full of date rape opportunities is living in a fantasy world. In fact, their naivety is monumental.
No one wants to return to those days when the atmosphere for half the enrollment was akin to living in a nunnery. So what can these institutions do to prevent parents and grandparents from dissolving into ectoplasm every night their college kids don’t check in? Should they (we) demand beefed up security with limits on off-campus areas? In smaller towns should the colleges or universities subsidize local police to make sure that there are patrols on the city streets where students eat and drink and so forth? Some schools have intense courses on the responsibilities of students in this whole matter. They should be mandatory.
All these questions and dozens more need to be asked and a way found to minimize the dangers as much as possible in this increasingly violent world. The sight of the hundreds of Virginia students holding a candlelight vigil for Hannah Graham is way too often repeated across this nation.
I remember my telephone ringing one night at 11 p.m. My college senior son was somewhat frantic that he could not find his sophomore sister who was attending another institution. I told him she was at school.
“It is now 11 and she isn’t in her dorm,” he said. I informed him her school was in a time zone that was an hour behind where he was. Promptly at midnight the phone rang again and he announced that he had just called her and she was OK in her room. While I laughed about it at the time, I was enormously proud of his concern, one he is now showing for his daughter who is a freshman at a major university.
It would be utterly insensitive to the inequities women still face to even suggest that we could turn back the clock to those days when as college students they were treated as little girls to be tucked in by a certain hour. But whatever else we can do to prevent what might have befallen Hannah Graham and so many others we should try.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: email@example.com.
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