Home » Opinion » Opinion: Women’s safety at Ohio State sometimes feels like a joke

Opinion: Women’s safety at Ohio State sometimes feels like a joke

It was this time last year, when the crocus began to bloom and the snowdrops peeked their heads out of partially frozen soil, that I found a slip of paper under the windshield wiper of my rusty 1993 Buick station wagon in the back of Carmack parking lot.

I suspected it was a parking ticket. I launched into detective mode, grabbing the suspect paper from the window. Instead of a ticket, I found a sheet torn from a notebook with a handwritten note.

It was from a man who said he’d been watching and saw me every morning, had a phone number and in sloppy cursive at the bottom was signed “Jake.” I put the note in my cup holder and headed home, where I talked to my mom and sister about the mysterious Jake.

They were concerned. And as the initial flattery wore off, I began to share their sentiments. I strained my brain to figure out if there was anyone I saw regularly in the parking lot and recalled no one. Someone had been watching me for months, knew when I got to campus and what car I drove, and I had no idea who they were. But they certainly knew me.

Even if Jake was a perfectly respectable, nice (albeit shy) guy, he had never bothered to say hello, and I was startled. So I started driving a different car and switched my parking lot soon thereafter.

It might seem like an overreaction at first to change my routine and even my car, but I swear to you the fear associated with this experience is something women all over campus feel every day. With the shedding of winter layers, I would like to issue a reminder I feel, sadly, is needed: respect your fellow students.

I have felt disrespected here. I have felt horror and I have felt disgust. Sometimes it is a whistle or catcall when crossing High Street. Sometimes it is the man who tries to spark conversation and follows you for a half a mile between your classes. Sometimes it is the man who stops you, stares at your cleavage and declares that you look “very exotic.”

Sometimes it’s the man you met in front of Hagerty Hall who you hang out with once, only to have him jack off next to you at the movie theater. And sometimes it is the teaching associate who kept touching you in class and justifies it by saying you were his “crush” all semester.

The biggest issue with all of it is that nobody around ever stopped to help. If they noticed and kept moving, it is a problem. If they did not notice, it is an even bigger problem. I did not know where to go, who to turn to for help, and frankly it sucked.

Ohio State — God knows I love it — has some really screwed up issues when it comes to women. I came to OSU a naive girl, taking classes that ended after dark and was approached on the bus ride and walk to the parking lot my first night here.

Now I understand why my coworkers laughed when they pulled out their matching pink pepper spray. I get it and I carry some, too. And there lies the irony — we laugh because our safety at times feels like one gigantic joke. I do not feel safe here after dark, and I do not feel all that much safer in the light.

I do not have any perfect solutions. But I wish, I really, really wish somebody had warned me what it would actually be like to be a female student at the Ohio State University.


  1. Where to begin?

    Ms. Stahl’s piece puts into very descriptive terms how some new students may feel upon being introduced to the big wide world of uncertainty. Perhaps more than just “some.” Perhaps many.

    I’ve been on and around campus since 1980, when I came here after my first year at Newark. From working with the old USG CrimeWatch Escort Service, volunteering with the Community Crime Patrol, helping teach the old PAES 172 Self-Defense course for six years, and writing the old Lantern Safety Column a couple times, you might say I’ve had my share of interest in all the bad things that can happen.

    My big take away is that the academic administration is not particularly interested in advancing your practical safety knowhow. They probably think it’s bad for PR. Just a guess, since these “educators” simply don’t acknowledge the likes of me.

    My main advice:

    1. Your safety is up to YOU. The first thing needed is to pay attention to your surroundings, your gut feelings and your space in the world. You’ll need to know what is going on around you, what danger looks like and what your response might be. This takes both education and training. Some of this is available here at OSU, and much of it ain’t.

    2. Crime and assault prevention is lifelong learning. It will be useful to you far beyond campus and your college years. It is a quite valid area of education, despite the lack of interest by our “leadership.”

    3. Threats come in all varieties. Many will be “known” to you, so concentrating only on strangers could be counterproductive. You need to know about both.

    Good places to start here at OSU:

    -Sexual Violence Education Services: call 292-4527 for info.
    -Take a self-defense class. I recommend the OSU Police Rape Aggression Defense course since it is taught by both male and female police instructors and involves full contact training along with the mental aspects. Call our police at 292-2121 to see if they are planning any courses soon.
    -Take some criminology and/or women’s studies courses.
    -Reading. There are many good books out there too. Someone ask if you want me to post a list.

    Finally, safety is not just for women. It’s also for males. I had to report OSU to the Federal Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to look into OSU’s refusal to offer a “men’s self-defense” course for many years. The last quarter we had, OSU was forced to make it so. No one ever thanked me, but I guess I never expected that. 🙂

    Violence is a concern for everyone, not just women.

    Oh, Ms. Staho, if there was a teaching associate who did touch you all semester and then make that remark, I’d think about reporting that experience to SVES to get their take on it.

    Enough for now.


  2. Opinion: This Article Feels Like A Joke

  3. Billy – the fact that you think this article is a “joke”, just reinforces reasons that women on OSU’s campus do not feel safe. Sadly, it does not seem we have found an ally in you. Step outside your shoes for once and realize how the world looks to others, not just your male privileged self.

  4. Fellow female student

    I agree with this article. Especially after taking the campus climate survey about sexual assault. I have been assaulted on campus and near campus and it seems ridiculous that I was just made aware of different counseling or safely solutions via a survey. I too love my school but I wish that they wouldn’t worry so much about PR and would take initiate for the safety of their students to raise awareness about safety.

  5. After graduating from Ohio State in 2013, I can’t tell you how many times I felt threatened walking alone on campus at night. That shouldn’t be an issue that students (male or female!) have to face.

    Additionally, I’d like to mention that being aware is always a good general rule, but not being aware doesn’t warrant an unwanted advance, assault, or attack.

    Good for you for speaking up on an issue that every single woman at OSU has had to put up with.

  6. Safety guy – you’re an idiot. It shouldn’t be a woman’s responsibility to look out for her own safety on a campus she should be comfortable being on. It’s time to tell men to stop assaulting women and respect their privacy and right to agency. This is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed at its source, not by telling women to carry more pepper spray.

  7. OSU is in the middle of a city with a population of over 800,000. Like all large cities, Columbus has problems with gang activity, drugs, homelessness, etc. Unless OSU can solve the cycle of poverty, or build a giant wall around campus, there is only so much the university can do. Thus, students need to recognize that they can never fully feel safe in a large city and that they will need to carry mace to protect themselves.

  8. Ok, good luck solving this problem by “telling men to stop assaulting women and respect their privacy”. Sorry, but it’s not that simple.

    The main problem I have is that it sounds like women are not dealing with specific instances of these violations. For example, safety guy pointed out several actions that should have been taken following the different interactions the author had. It’s hard to tackle an issue when you let things pile up before you speak up.

  9. This essay is brave and important, and this student is NOT alone in her feelings. I was a student at OSU from 1999-2003. My dorm life was great, I felt safe with my experiences in the dorm. It was when I moved off campus, just a block away from my dorm, that I no longer felt safe. I lived in 2 different houses sophomore-senior year, and my home was broken into off campus on several occasions. I, too, was followed. There were multiple occasions when I saw a man, standing in the dark, in my backyard, was just watching me. We called the police. They always came, took a report, and then nothing…because no one was really breaking any laws other than trespassing. The scariest was when a man was peeping through our window, literally, his face was up against the screen, watching my roommate and me watching TV. We lived in a house without air conditioning…so my roommate and I decided it best to lock our windows that summer. It was 90-100s degrees, and we were miserable…we went to the library all day to cool off, but I remember my heart racing when I left the house, worried that some creep was outside waiting for me. I also feel frustrated, when I hear people explain that my safety is all in my hands…because in retrospect, I followed the advice. Tons of people advised me to “Have someone walk you home. Don’t walk alone at night.” So, I did. I always had a guy-friend or a group of females walk with me at night. But looking back, I am lucky that my male friends didn’t make unwanted advances and that none of the men that were watching me ever physically harmed me…either way…they DID violate my sense of safety. It’s not an easy problem to solve…but please recognize that I’m a strong independent woman and I felt scared out of my wits for 3 years of my life…those 3 years living off campus at OSU.

  10. Ms. Stahl makes MANY valid points. While it is true that Female Students should take some responsibility for their own safety, the Onus is really on the University to provide a campus where EVERYONE is safe. How can that be accomplished?? Get tough on offenders.. show everyone you are serious instead of just lip service, sensitivity training, and hotlines. Hire some Private security people to mingle around campus in plain clothes (especially at night). Also If you are student and do nothing to come to the aid of someone who is being assaulted, harassed, etc.. then you are part of the problem. If you take a minute and get involved, a great deal of issues can be solved. Offer to walk with a female student to her car or back to the dorm. As for the Moron who pleasured himself in the Movies on a date with this young lady, he deserved to have an ice cold drink poured in his lap, or a hot bowl of nacho cheese. He is lucky she didnt offer to “help him out” and then squeeze his package until it exploded.

    I would also strongly advise Ms. Stahl to gather her facts, and report that Teaching Assistant to the University. No One should be able to intimidate a student or belittle them in any way.

  11. What safety guy had to say about being responsible for your own safety made me laugh. There’s only so much you can do, and even if you are paying attention there are inevitably situations that are going to happen where your safety is going to be at risk. The issue with Ohio state is that there is a lack of security. ANYONE can ride the campus buses. At night campus police are NO WHERE to be seen on west campus. Same thing in the early morning it’s quiet. And your all alone waiting for the next bus to come. I too took the sexual assault survey last week and it seemed like a big PR survey to assure students that there are services to help them cope after the fact of an assault or a harassment. Why not instead put the time and effort into preventing it? Irregardless of if you are a man or a woman or if your a new student or a seasoned veteran, the fact of the matter is campus has a lot of issues regarding safety particularly after hours.

  12. Would you like some cheese with your first-world, over-privileged whine? Some people have serious problems all over the world. You finding a note on your car, being looked at, being touched, or even sexually assaulted ranks very low. Have you had to deal with starvation, the threat of being blown to bits, hacked up by knives, or enslaved? Billions of people would be ecstatic to live with the security you bemoan as a joke. Grow up and realize we all have risks we have to face. I feel so sad for you, the frightened little very, very, very safe world in which you must live.

  13. Dear Eddy,

    Thanks for setting me straight. I think that trusting all men to not commit any crimes at all is an excellent strategy. Instead of trusting and strengthening and investing in themselves, why not just insist that women rely on men for their safety! Kinda like in the old days of chivalry!

    Py Bateman and the Feminist Karate Union would be proud of you. For that matter, so would Margaret Sanger and Lucretia Mott…


  14. Eddy, I will respond later this weekend when I have the time.


  15. Eddy, I’ll respond later this weekend when I get time. My three previous attempts under my “name” were unsuccessful.


  16. Testing the post system so I don’t waste my time.

  17. Eddy, go look in the mirror. You should see the only person who will be with you the rest of your life, 24/7/365. When you are asleep, good security hardware should cause intruders to create enough noise to awaken you. When you know you may be distracted, you can situate yourself in such a way as to be less likely to surprise. Only when you are under the care of doctors or other health workers (ie., an operation), will you not be chiefly responsible for your safety.

    The decisions you make are crucial. In my opinion, the decision to abrogate your own “agency” and depend on any others, male or female, to protect your interests (physical, political, philisophical) is not a wise choice.

    I would recommend you go back in history and study the much wiser decisions of your foremothers. Read Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s address to the Seneca Falls conference. Read about the actions of Harriet Tubman. Note: she did not carry pepper spray. She carried a revolver. So did Eleanor Roosevelt.

    The Right to self-defense is not a gender issue. It is not even a “human” right. It the right of all living things, from cacti to killer whales. All organisms have the right to protect themselves. Only human beings seem to have the capacity to fool themselves into thinking that someone else should do that work for them, and only human beings enact laws and social attitudes which seek to disrupt that right.

    I leave you with this thought: Your right of free speech, even to calling others names, is there because men and women who have gone before have struggled, fought and died so you can exercise it. Imagine if they had simply insisted that someone else do the work! This leads to my favorite bumper sticker, an allusion to “the work” done during World War Two:

    “If you can read this, thank a teacher.
    If you are reading it in English, thank a soldier.”

    And, I would add, thank Rosie the Riveter, the women in the air auxiliaries, military services, nurses, child care workers (read about the Blitz), and spies for the SOE/OSS, and so forth. All of these women, like their brothers in arms, did what they did because they took responsibility, not shirked it.


  18. I find it ironic that the university administration has done little to prevent stalking, or sexual assault on campus. There are reports of rape in the dorms, and rape of children in a campus day care center. The administration IS however, more than willing to spend a million dollars to prevent band members from having nicknames or marching once a year in their underwear.

  19. I empathize with you Danika. You make valid points and I hope that those things don’t happen to you again, or to any other women on campus. The university should do more to increase safety. Others mentioned feeling unsafe on west campus or at bus stops; increased police would help. However, being in a city, there is only so much the administration can and will do.

    Unfortunately, the world in which we live is quite dangerous and you really can’t trust anyone (except friends and family obviously). Women (and men) should be able to live in a world in which everyone is treated with decency and respect, but this won’t happen. The best we can do is take precautions to make sure nothing happens to us, as sad as this may be. I never walk around at night and make it a point to never go on North High Street – it just doesn’t feel safe. I only truly feel safe when I am on campus during daylight hours.

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