It started off with a simple stop at Tim Horton’s late on a Saturday night.
I had just arrived back on campus from my weekly trip home and hunger had decided to manifest and multiply in my stomach, with a strong insistency that my survival would desert me before I made it back to residence. The Tim Horton’s was a safe haven on a cold, dark night.
After making my purchases (a fantastic chicken noodle soup and a sandwich) the journey home seemed no big deal. Emerging from Tim Horton’s, I began to walk along Bloor Street. After a few minutes, a man approached me. He was tall, and well built, late 20s or early 30s, with a black, thick jacket and an otherwise scruffy appearance. His eyes were bloodshot and glazed over and his stare toward me seemed rather unfocused.
“Do you have spare change?” he asked, eying my purse
“No, I don’t, sorry”, was my curt and rather frightened reply.
“How about food?” He motioned to my delicious soup.
“Look, I’m sorry, I don’t” I said, getting nervous.
He advanced towards me menacingly and my heart leapt in my throat. I rushed away into a crowd of people, yelling, “I can’t help you!” behind me.
For many people, such a small incident holds little significance. I left unscathed, with no serious physical or emotional harm, and I had the pleasure of racing home to enjoy a batch of hot soup. But the fact of the matter is, in that instant of having someone come up to me of feeling threatened, I realized I had no way to defend myself, and I was relying on the presence of others around me to act if I was in danger. There was no time to use my phone and call for help, or run away. I was alone.
Countless university students are put into situations like this everyday. Many students have night courses that end at 8 or 9 p.m., and many individuals eat at a dining hall that is away from their residence and have to walk at night. As winter settles in and the sun sets earlier, all students (men and women alike) should feel comfortable to protect themselves from potential threats after sundown.
What can you do to ensure your own safety?
1. Walk with friends. It’s simple – Two is a couple, and three is crowd, but it’s better to be in a group. Walk with others to your subway stop, bus stop or residence. Try not to be alone, because being with others greatly reduces your risk of being a potential victim.
2. Call a friend or family member. Pull out your handy-dandy cellphone and use your late night travel home as opportunity to catch up with your buddies or gal pals. Someone is less likely to pounce while you are on the phone as the person you are talking to can hear if something goes wrong, and call the police. If your cellphone plan is not conducive to making long calls, then there are alternatives. Calling a friend or family member when you are done a late class to say, “I’m leaving campus. I should be off the subway in 45 min, and I’ll call you when I’m off the subway” is ensuring that someone else is consciously keeping your well-being in mind.
3. Be alert, be prepared, and be safe. Little things such as dressing inconspicuously can help make sure you don’t attract trouble, and not listening to the deafening iPod in your ear can encourage you to be on a conscious look out for anything suspicious. Headphones block one of your most important senses, hearing, and would be better left in your pocket during a late night wait at the bus stop. Carry a whistle, a small aid to alert others that you need help. Always have your cellphone ready during an emergency. Walk in well lit areas, closer to the street (if necessary) and stay alert.
4. Be proactive. You can actively prepare yourself for dangerous situations, by joining some of the programs Hart House offers, in both the fall and winter semester of school. You can register to instruction classes in Karate, Kendo (Japanese sward fighting – exciting!) and even Wen-Do, which are self-defence workshops for women. All of this information can be found on the Hart House website. You can also use the Walk Safer Program that UofT offers, which encourages you to call and receive a team of two students who can walk you between UofT buildings, to the subway and across Queen’s Park.
Every student should feel safe on campus, because (like all Universities), U of T is a place to grow, learn and develop – to find a niche and be creative, and to push limits and boundaries. Late nights project meetings and studying should not be hindered by a fear of attack at night. Instead, be active, and alert. Challenge yourself to take a self-defence or martial arts course with a friend, engage in safe late-night practices, and get support from others who care about your well-being.
Until next time,