A diverse sense of security

| Forum Editor

Every semester, my backpack surprises my classmates. No, it’s not high-tech, excessively large or hot pink. I have a mesh backpack, and apparently very few students at Wash. U. are accustomed to seeing one. Of course, having had a mesh backpack for most of my life, I think it’s pretty weird for me to see so many students carrying opaque bags.

I have such a backpack because a mesh or clear plastic one was required in almost all my years of schooling, including elementary school. The intention was to allow adults to notice weapons and drugs easily and therefore improve school security. Perhaps this fact reflects poorly upon the types of schools I attended; perhaps it also highlights the Band-Aid remedies to problems inner-city public schools face.

But what does the dominance of opaque backpacks say about Wash. U.? For one thing, it certainly reflects the independence we enjoy and the privacy we cherish. Few students would want the board of trustees dictating whether their L.L.Bean bags (complete with stitched initials) are safe and appropriate. We are at a point in our lives when adults trust our judgment in at least the more trivial matters. Nor would students want other people to peer effortlessly into their backpacks. These bags hold everything from the mundane to the intimate; I’m sure that every day, someone is carrying more than pencils and a textbook.

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Yet on a broader note, I feel that the most common style of backpack reflects the safe, trusting atmosphere of our campus. I bet if you polled a large group of students, the vast majority would say that they feel safe on campus, even late at night. WUPD, Bear Patrol and other entities have done an admirable job of ensuring student safety. Unlike at previous schools of mine, there is little anticipation here of a blatant drug or weapons-related incident—though, thankfully, there is ample preparation, such as the emergency text message service, should one occur.

At Wash. U., some students nonchalantly (and stupidly) leave their computers on the library desk while they run to make copies. We prop open our room doors, calculating that it is more likely for a friend to stop by and chat than it is for a stranger to enter and steal. Basically, at this university, there is a wonderful expectation of safety and general sense of security. Our campus is blessed with very little serious crime.

But then again, I don’t know if I would always call the sense of security a blessing. I can see it leading to a feeling of invincibility, a justification like “This is Wash. U.; that would never happen.” To take a different angle, I see this consistent ambiance of security on campus as another way in which Wash. U. lacks diversity. For all the attention that the lack of socioeconomic diversity on campus has drawn, we’ve failed to acknowledge an often intimately connected truth: Most of us grew up in safe communities which didn’t require us to worry very often about bad things happening. Coming from an upper middle-class neighborhood, I know this is true for me.

I do not advocate a less-safe Wash. U.; that would be regressive and stupid. Yet I think we could all benefit from a student body that was less assured and more cognizant of the realities of crime on campus. To become safer, we students must become more vigilant. To become more vigilant, the University must attract a more diverse crowd, a student body with a broader spectrum of comfort. Crime, from bicycle theft to sexual assault, will not abate until we learn to actively protect ourselves against it.