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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

When safety is taken for granted

< I feel safe on campus? Well. As a straight, cisgender, upper-middle-class white American from San Jose (often considered the safest big city in the country), I can say with little exaggeration that there are few times in my life when I have not felt safe. Those rare moments have been brief, such as when my family drove through the Tenderloin of San Francisco and my parents would lock the doors. Little things like that made safety something I would take for granted over the course of my life. So secure did I feel at home, in my neighborhood, in my town, that I’d regularly be out—on walks, with friends, at malls, wherever—far past dark, until ten or eleven or midnight. Rarely was it uncomfortable. Street smarts weren’t something I grew up with because, with my privilege, they never seemed necessary. For many years my most direct experience with police officers was with the kind one who lived next door. I never saw him as a part of an oppressive system, even though I recognized it existed. Sometimes I’d ask police officers for help when I needed it around town. They weren’t frightening to me, despite everything I knew about their powers of destruction. As a white man, that advantage was mine.

My experience of safety at Carleton has been much the same. I never feel uncomfortable walking around campus, even if it’s two in the morning on a Saturday. Even the rare times when I’ve been around aggressive people, I haven’t been that afraid. I can always walk away or diffuse the situation, I think. Again, I chalk this up to my privilege. I rarely go to parties, I’ve never been sexually assaulted, I’m a straight, cisgender, white man. There’s little for me to fear and certainly I’ve been conditioned to fear little. But when my mom came to visit for parents’ weekend (another sign of my privilege), I saw another side of the story.

I invited her to see my radio show Saturday night—or, I should say, Sunday morning. 1:00 to 2:30. She didn’t feel comfortable walking across campus alone from her car to the KRLX studio, so she stayed in my room. This shouldn’t have surprised me. Yet it did. Despite all my experience with Carleton as a safe, welcoming community, if I were anything other than a straight, cisgender white man, I’m sure I would have understood her wariness more easily. Obviously I can’t speak for other students, and I do not intend to, but I want to make clear that my own experience is an anomaly compared to much of the world. Most people don’t have the luxury of taking their safety for granted, wherever they live. Most people haven’t grown up with enough privilege for the world to be sanitized to them. I have, and I acknowledge that.

So why did I write this piece? What can I hope to add? Well, Carleton has a lot of straight, cisgender white men, as far as American colleges go. And a lot of people with economic privilege besides. Realizing that not everyone has that background is critical to building community. After all, we can’t make our communities harmonious and strong if we don’t make an effort to understand each other. If you feel safe here and most everywhere else you go, chances are you’re like me and you’ve lived your whole life with privilege. Accept that, but more importantly, keep in mind that most people you’ll interact with over the course of your life don’t have that background. Once you acknowledge that your feelings of safety are shaped by your experiences, I think you’ll find it’s easier to empathize with people of the wide range of backgrounds you’ll find here and elsewhere. And God knows we could all use some empathy in times like these.

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