Swat Visually: Where Students Feel Unsafe on Campus

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

As a precursor, I would like to point out some major flaws in this week’s data (I’m sorry, is my Anthropology major showing?):

1. There were only 47 responses
2. Students that do not identify as male or female represent only 6% of the sample
3. There are no men of color represented
4. There are twice as many white respondents as respondents of color
5. There are three times as many female as male respondents

Please keep these biases in mind as you are looking at the findings for this week, especially since harassment and discrimination disproportionately affect people of color and the queer community.

With that in mind, Swat Visually presents our map of where students feel unsafe on campus:

View Unsafe Spaces on Campus in a full screen map

Something I learned from this data was that many students feel unsafe walking around campus, particularly on the walk to PPR, the tunnel to the train station, and on the path from Wharton to Sharples. Since adding a few extra streetlights in these considerably unlit areas could make a huge difference, this is definitely a path (pun intended) the administration should consider.

But now onto the juicier stuff:

Swarthmore’s party scene (if we can be so generous as to call it that) and how safe it is have been frequent subjects of debate on campus. And the data from this week certainly justifies that: out of the 73 locations respondents declared as unsafe, 44 were party spaces. Respondents cited assault, fear of being surrounded by inebriated men, and undesired sexual advances as some of the many factors in their senses of unsafety.

However, when we break down these the party spaces in which students feel uncomfortable, we find that fraternities make up over 80% of them (37 of 44). Students are actually five times more likely to feel unsafe in fraternities than they are in Paces, Olde Club, and Sharples parties combined.

Now, this neither the time nor the space to point fingers or make claims. However, if you frequent these spaces, I implore you to think about these numbers. Are they surprising? Do you feel threatened by them? Have you ever seen something in these spaces that, looking back, you realize could have been a much bigger deal than it seemed at the time? Why might the fraternities be different from other spaces on campus?
Remember, except for the totally valid concerns about Upper Tarble’s structural design (seriously, how did the entire thing not come down during the Halloween party?), spaces are not inherently unsafe. People make them that way.

For next week, Swat Visually is looking at what constitutes a “Swattie,” so definitely submit your response and look out for the results next Friday.

Yours truly,
Swat Visually


    • Why? Nobody is implying that this is representative of the whole campus. It does, however, give us information about 47 people, the vast majority of whom feel unsafe in the fraternities.

      • Actually, that’s what these types of surveys are meant to imply, which is why having 47 respondents is a problem. Especially when you’re looking at subgroups like Kassandra is like students of color or female students with extremely small sample sizes.

        Also, it seems to me that responding students not identifying with a gender being 6% of the sample is not a problem. Is the Swarthmore population of non-identifying students significantly greater than 6%? If anything, I would expect it to be lower, but maybe I’m wrong there.

        • Love a good mansplanation. As far as I can tell there’s no attempt to infer based on the results of the survey — hence the many disclaimers. You can gather information and not generalize based on the results. We can conclude that there are more than 30 Swarthmore students feel unsafe in the frats. That’s an important conclusion and a valid one. Period.

          • Love some good righteous indignation. Especially when you follow it up with something equally condescending.

            Arjun, in response to your question about proportionality, I don’t think proportionality is super relevant here. As Kassandra points out, discrimination and harassment affect queer people disproportionately. The goal here isn’t to figure out where the average Swarthmore student feels unsafe, but to see where any and all Swarthmore students might feel unsafe individually.

          • Sorry for the late response.

            Re: Uhm – How am I mansplaining? The general purpose of surveys of a sample is to approximate the views of the population, which in this case is presumably the Swarthmore student body since that is who the poll is open to. Yes, we can conclude that 30 Swatties feel unsafe, and that’s an important and valid conclusion, but that’s not a response to what I was saying. I’m referring to the percentages in each group, as in 36% of students of color feel unsafe due to racial/ethnicity based issues.

            Re: Uhhhhmmm – Fair enough. But if that were the goal of the poll, I think a better approach would be to specifically poll groups on campus that Kassandra is interested in (women, minorities, queer people, etc.) and then report those results with larger sample sizes.

            It’s not that those reporting that they feel unsafe in this survey is an irrelevant result – it’s just that you could know beforehand that at least 30 people on campus feel unsafe at the frats. It’s much more interesting to get an approximation of how many total students feel unsafe at the frats. And I haven’t even mentioned bias in responding to a survey – i.e. the people who respond to such a survey are more likely to have strong opinions on the matter (and those opinions are related to bad experiences at the fraternities I’d imagine).

            Again, I’m not trying to make any real ideological points here besides the fact that you can’t take away too much from this survey besides the fact that at least 30 people feel unsafe, which as I said before, is something I imagine most of us knew already.

  1. While I have (like many other Swarthmore students) have issues with the fraternities, it does seem worth pointing out that a survey showing many students feel unsafe at the fraternities doesn’t say much about how safe the fraternities actually are. As a follow up, I think it could be interesting to read a survey about what percentage of students have received undesired sexual advances and where they happened, or something like that.

    Additionally, I think it’s important to draw a distinction between feeling unsafe and feeling uncomfortable. There are plenty of reasons (of varying legitimacy) for a white student to feel uncomfortable at the BBC, but there are no legitimate reasons for a white student to feel unsafe at the BBC.

  2. I wonder why the author has not been as apologetic about her sample sizes in previous installments of Swat Visually as she is here. She has certainly claimed that similar sample sizes represent consensus of the student body in the past.

  3. Being surrounded and assaulted by “inebriated men” – you are talking about the future maybe 10% elite of the country?! Imagine how people, esp. women must feel in society at large, among the other 90% and esp. among, to sketch it somewhat graphically, the bottom 10%? “… three times as many female as male respondents …” No wonder either: not only will black MEN probably feel less threatened by white men as often they may have a stronger build plus they two groups tend to avoid each other, even decades after the abolition of segregation, but social psychology studies suggest that women rank below men, i.e. first white men, then black men, then white women, then colored women … And thus you’d get a fair share of these women respondents and, if I guess right, there may have been more men on campus then women so that adjusted for sex the “three times” is an even statistical signal …

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