Learning to control fear

by Rachel Mast

As most everyone in the Goshen College family is already aware, an act of violence was committed against one of our sisters last week.  This crime left students, parents, and employees feeling anxious and unsafe.  A personal assault against one young woman was, in effect, an assault on an entire community’s sense of security.  While the extra emphasis on safety is a good thing, we can’t live in constant fear of the recurrence of such an event.

In response, the college has tightened security, adding extra security staff at night, making a security escort available for students walking across campus after dark, and a 24/7 lockdown of residence halls.  These extra security measures are all well-intended, but are also products of a fearful community.  On a small scale, it’s similar to the USA’s heightened airline security after the 9/11 attacks.  In both instances, the extra security was only added after something tragic occurred, and in both instances, the extra security carries extra hassle and some annoyance.

To be more specific, keeping the residence halls locked 24 hours a day means students must always carry their floor keys.  If I want to take some empty bottles to the recycling bin, I have to bring my key so I don’t get locked off the floor, even though the recycling bins are within 25 feet.   Additionally, locked floors make it difficult to drop in on friends who live on other floors.  I understand that keeping the doors locked provides comfort to many students (and to worried parents), but it’s still very frustrating to leave for a 9 a.m. class and realize halfway across campus that my key was in my other pair of jeans.  Perhaps in the future, GC might look into the possibility of keypad locks.  In any case, students have always been, and still are, free to lock their dorms if security is a personal concern.

There has also been a lot of emphasis on walking in groups or calling campus security for an escort.  Both of these suggestions are great ideas.  There is power in numbers – a notion I have been familiar with since elementary school when teachers talked to us about confronting bullies.  Sometimes, it’s just not possible to be with a group, which is when campus security comes in handy.  But sometimes, you might want the solitude of walking alone.  As a senior, I have three and a half years of first hand knowledge about how living on campus can make a person feel like they never have time alone.  There have been times when I just wanted to be alone for a while, and the easiest way to do that was to take a walk by myself in a secluded area.  It can be necessary for maintaining emotional, mental, and spiritual balance.   A woman walking alone in a secluded area is exactly what every safety guide warns me not to be, yet I still find myself in that position from time to time.

The unfortunate reality of the world is that bad people with bad intentions exist everywhere.  Precautions like locked doors and walking in groups help, but we need more than that.   It would be great to have a few self-defense classes offered on campus.  In the pacifist Mennonite tradition, self-defense is often considered too violent, but it’s not about learning to fight.  It’s about learning to stay focused and in control in the face of fear.  It’s about feeling more confident in your ability to protect yourself, thus appearing less vulnerable.  Be cautious, be careful, but do not let fear control how you live.

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