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Don't let them win

Illustration by Josh Hagler
By Kendrick Wilson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Apr. 25, 2002

In less than a week, UA's residence halls have seen five frightening incidents involving sexual predators. Female residents are understandably living in fear, and a dark shadow has been cast over the dorms

I live in La Paz residence hall, where two of the incidents took place. My section in particular has a very strong sense of community, which has not changed, although the female residents have now been keeping their doors closed.

"My roommate and I have been keeping our door closed more often now," Mansi Kotwal, a pre-physiology junior who is a resident of La Paz, said.

Another La Paz resident, who asked that the Wildcat not release her name, is taking further measures.

"I keep my door closed, I don't open the windows anymore, and I carry my pepper spray with me into the bathroom," she said. "None of the girls in my hall shower without another girl in the bathroom - we have a buddy system, and the male residents have also been very understanding and helpful."

Clearly, these incidents have made an impact on how students living on campus view their personal safety. Nonetheless, the non-resident intruders made their way into the residence halls despite security measures.

"It's scary that this could happen in a dorm with as much security as La Paz," Kotwal said. "We have good security, and this still happened."

Residence Life needs to improve security measures, although that seems somewhat difficult, given the current 24-hour lockdown that Tuesday night's intruder still managed to get through. La Paz Hall needs to remain accessible to wheelchair-users, but those doors stay open too long. Perhaps sensors, like those used for automatic doors at businesses, or shortening the time that doors stay open would help.

Above all, students clearly need to wake up to the fact that the days of trusting people who enter the hall are over. When students open doors, they need to start questioning other people who enter through the open door. I had one of my fellow residents ask to see my keys as I entered through a door she had opened. I wasn't angry; in fact, I was thrilled that she understood the importance of looking out for the safety of her neighbors. Hopefully, it will not take another incident like the last two we have seen to convince those residents who still insist on letting strangers into the building.

Despite all the negative publicity, there is some good news. At least the intruders didn't have guns. The situation could have been much worse, and the incidents we saw could have been more like Columbine High had these predators been armed. There will undoubtedly be claims that the victims could have protected themselves had they been armed, but few women carry guns into the shower. Even if they did, guns can always be turned against their owners. I can already picture the headline: "Student accidentally shoots and kills roommate as intruder escapes."

UA's current ban on weapons is probably not directly responsible for these intruders not being armed, but it has created a less armed, less violent campus, which probably did contribute to the fact that these criminals chose to enter the residence halls without guns. At the very least, we can all take some comfort in the fact that people walking around campus can be arrested for having weapons, now that we have seen that our campus isn't the safe haven many of us thought it was.

These incidents were extremely shocking to many people, but the risk of them happening is not new, nor is it exclusive to dorms.

"It could have happened anywhere," Kotwal reminds us.

Students living on campus are justified in their fear, but they can't let it stop them from living their lives. Dorm security must and is certain to increase, but once it reaches a certain point, the wrong people end up in jail. When female residents become afraid to walk to their classes or to go out at night, the criminals win a double victory.

Elizabeth Watson, a pre-business junior, is a current resident of La Paz who plans to return.

"Of course I have not changed my plans to move back to La Paz next year," she said. "I can't change my life because of this. This incident was scary, but it wasn't the fault of the dorm."

Dorm residents must work together to take back their communities and not allow these criminals to dominate their lives.


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