Picture this: it’s 1:45am, the lights are dimmed, the music is blaring, and you’ve been spending the night drowning your post-breakup sorrows in coronas, tequila shots, Long Island iced teas… pretty much anything you can get those perfectly manicured hands on. Suddenly, the contents of that last $5 pitcher you bought hit you like an extremely large sack of bricks and, seeing your smugly indifferent ex across the bar buying a neon blue kamikaze for the petite blonde in last year’s econ class, the rage volcano in the pit of your stomach that has remained latent for the past few hours begins to bubble. Instead of cuing the waterworks and allowing an inevitable, alcohol-induced diatribe to erupt from within, you storm through the crowd of sweaty, dancing bodies with every intention of wobbling your way back to your apartment. At the doorway, you hurriedly scan the masses of people in search of the friend who accompanied you to the bar. No time to wait, though. After just a few moments of unsuccessful searching, you whirl around and begin the walk home alone.
Although it’s naïve, I’m sure that most of us have at some point considered our university campus to be a bubble, disconnected from the real world and devoid of any serious hazards (apart from suffering the weekly hangover and occasional heartbreak). Before this summer, I admit I was one of those college students with a misguided sense of trust in the goodness of those around me. But once the Department of Public Safety at my university began sending weekly emails informing its students and faculty of a possible serial rapist who has been lurking around campus, I began to accept the fact that danger exists everywhere. Even more alarming is the recent, unexplained disappearance of an Indiana University sophomore who was last seen walking home alone in the early morning hours after a night out. After listening to her parents tearfully pleading for someone to come forward with any information, the reality of the situation finally hit home. Those could have been my parents, and that missing girl could have been me.
Every day, we are inundated with back-to-school preparation advertisements. Of course the notebooks, the bedding, and the toiletries are essentials. And yes, you’ll most likely need to update your wardrobe to fit the changing seasons and styles of the coming year… but the most critical thing that you should bring back to college may not necessarily be one of these advertised items. Instead, the most important item you can add to your list is the understanding that there is real danger for those who venture out alone at night. While it may behoove you to pack some pepper spray beside your pencils and textbooks, the most important thing to take with you is your good judgment.