Look out for yourself, others during college

Growing up, my most terrifying and harrowing experience was my brush with death…against a jellyfish.

My family and I make the trek to the beach almost every summer, but a week of sharing a house with my boy cousins reminded me why I was so grateful to be an only child. A competitive side of myself came out every year, and that is what got me into trouble that day at the beach. In my attempts to be brave and swim out as far as the boys, I ran into a tangle of tentacles that wrapped themselves around my legs from ankle to thigh. Kicking only tangled them more.

My dad answered my agonizing shrieks, and whisked me and my bright purple striped legs back to the house to be doused in vinegar.

The ocean is a different entity to me now, a beautiful but dangerous thing that surely holds more horrors than this tiny gelatinous blob that caused me so much pain. The shock I received from the jellyfish served as a warning, and I surely wasn’t going to test those waters the same way again.

I was lucky enough to be given the same kind of warning when I arrived at Baylor as a freshman. Like the ocean, college is fun, but can be filled with dark dangers that are difficult to navigate. I was fearless once again, freely exploring campus with my roommate.

But within my first few days at Baylor, I was stung by a jelly, and realized that I was no longer safe at a beach house where my dad could swoop in to make it better.

We were headed home for the night, having had our fill of adventure. On the way home, a dark figure appeared 20 feet behind us, matching our pace. It wouldn’t have been suspicious, except the figure was familiar, an older student we had made small talk with before. He sped up to awkwardly join our conversations, as we had begun to talk and laugh to try to ease our nerves and growing suspicion of this stranger that had at first seemed so kind. After a few minutes, he dropped back again and continued to follow us…all the way to our dorm.

We somehow made it safely home without incident, finally shaking him in the parking lot. It only took one small sting to warn me that Baylor is to be cherished and admired, but also carefully navigated like treacherous waters.

In the wake of recent events concerning sexual assault, I am reminded of these warnings I was given. Even though many of us are lucky enough to have escaped such circumstances, these unfortunate events should serve as a warning to all. Just as the ocean isn’t like “The Little Mermaid,” college isn’t like middle school anymore. During this transition period of our lives between childhood and adulthood, there are real, adult dangers and it is imperative that this fact isn’t forgotten.

Not everyone respects personal space and not everyone is out to be friends. It’s a sad fact of life, and most everyone will agree that it absolutely should not be that way. So many are fighting against sexual violence. However, until the battle is won, there are ways that we can fight from the other side by remaining vigilant. By fiercely protecting each other, we can prevent it from being possible in the first place.

Never walk alone at night. This one is hard; I’m tempted to do it all the time. When you’re studying at the library late at night and just want to get home, it’s so easy to forget how dangerous that half-mile stroll can be. The golf cart shuttle service is there for this very purpose. It runs from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., the time of day that most sexual assaults are likely to occur. The shuttle service can be requested by calling 254-265-0690. The Bear Trail is not excluded from this rule, especially because it loops around the campus exterior. Find a running buddy.

Party safely. It’s college, we get it. We all want to have some fun and let loose. But it’s important to stay safe because 66.3 percent of sexual victimization situations occur off campus, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The best way to achieve this is to stay in groups. Phone apps such as Find My Friends help to keep track of your friends. It’s easier to get out of a potentially dangerous situation if your friends can see what’s going on and swoop in with a fake emergency. Single targets are more easily attacked than groups. Also, if you didn’t see with your own eyes what went into the drink someone is offering you, do not take it. Even if a friend handed it to you, there is no guarantee that he or she saw it being made. Everyone laughs at “Don’t drink the punch” at orientation, but in all seriousness, don’t drink it if you don’t know what is in it.

Don’t trust everyone. This is a Christian university, but not everyone is friendly, not even your friends. According to The Campus Sexual Assault Study by the National Institute of Justice, 88 percent of victims of assault knew their attacker personally. It isn’t always a dark figure lurking behind the dumpster in the parking lot. It could be the person sitting next to you in class who asks you to come to their party. This doesn’t mean to pepper spray anyone who comes near you, but be mindful of any suspicious behavior.

Be observant. Be on the lookout for suspicious activity around you and react accordingly. If you feel as if you’re being followed on your way home, don’t go home and risk them finding out where you live. Make your way to a public, well-lit area and make a call to get a ride. Don’t make yourself an easy target. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t ruffle through a bag or look distracted or off guard. Don’t sit in your car on the phone when you are leaving the store. If someone gets close enough to attempt an attack, be assertive and cause trouble. The possibility of getting caught pursuing a time consuming or difficult victim is not worth their trouble.

Report it. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports only about 6 percent of attackers will ever see a jail cell and that’s because less than 5 percent of attacks against college students are reported to law enforcement. Victims may feel guilt or the pressure to remain silent. But unless it is reported, the attacker is free to roam and do it again to someone else. Taking a stand and reporting the incident makes the world safer for you and others. If you are not the victim but you witnessed suspicious behavior, encourage the victim to speak up. It is no one but the attacker’s fault and reporting what happened is the first step toward justice.

A lot of these tips may seem obvious, but if everyone follows them, we have the potential to eradicate sexual assault at Baylor, and hopefully everywhere someday. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, but we have the power to take the matter into our own hands by being preventative and making everyone feel safe and protected.

Jacquelyn Kellar is a sophomore journalism major from Missouri City. She is a reporter for the Lariat.