UNC Asheville students don’t have to fear just suspicious people or activity on campus, something else lurks behind in the shadows. The beast that hides in the shadows is fear, and students should not run away because campus police, experts and other students say this beast can be defeated.
“I think in general we live in a culture of fear,” said Megan Underhill, an assistant professor of sociology at UNCA.
From the beginning of the 2020-21 school year at UNCA, there were more than 40 reports of suspicious activity around campus, according to the UNCA crime report. Despite these figures, students like Saide Scott say they do not feel any danger when on campus.
“Can’t say I have had any concerns about safety. I know the campus does its best to keep students safe,” Scott said.
When walking alone at night around campus or from her car, Scott said this is when she does feel the most unsafe. She tries to walk with friends and if that is not an option, she calls a friend, staying on the line until she reaches her destination.
“I am a woman and my fear of being assaulted is high, so I call a friend,” Scott said.
The blue light system, the Rocky Shield app and police escorts are just a few of the resources campus police provide for students to feel safe around campus. Knowing these resources are available, Scott said, makes her feel better about being on campus.
Along with these resources, the campus police provide anonymous tip submissions, 24/7 safety escorts, crime prevention tips and videos about safety. These resources can be found on the campus police website. The university also has a crime prevention program that partners with RAs to encourage student safety, said Campus Police Chief Eric Boyce.
“Part of our crime prevention program is that if you see something then say something. Safety is a shared responsibility and we have to look out for each other,” Boyce said.
As for the reporting of suspicious activity, Boyce said this year the number of suspicious activity reports has declined compared to previous years. He said this could be due to COVID-19 and there is a lower number of students on campus.
If students feel unsafe on campus, Boyce said to not hesitate to contact campus police. He also offered some advice for students if they find themselves in a situation where they feel unsafe.
“My advice to all students is, first of all, be aware of your surroundings at all times. It is risk awareness. Then avoid that risk. If you see someone and they are suspicious, you want to go the opposite direction and get yourself in a safe place. Then risk reduction is understanding that this happened and if it happened once it could happen again, so take steps to make sure you are not putting yourself in that situation again,” Boyce said.
The campus provides a safe environment for students and offers resources for student’s safety, but students still feel anxious at times. Scott said she feels anxious at times because the college environment is new to her.
New things and Asheville being a big city, which can be a drastic change for some students, is a scary and stressful experience for students, Underhill said.
“There is a book called Culture of Fear and the argument the scholar makes is that starting in the 1980s, crime began to be over-reported in the news at 600 percent. So people were being exposed to information that suggested that there was an elevated crime in communities across the United States when actually crime was going down. This then influenced how parents thought about safety for their kids and it made people start to have conversations about stranger danger with their kids. Parents also started to not let their children play around in the neighborhood by themselves. Now play became confined to the yard and playdates emerged. So this radically transformed how parents interact with their kids and the experience of childhood,” Underhill said.
If the world is portrayed as a scary place, it sticks with you, Underhill said. The stranger danger talk and family influence stick as children grow up. It is hard not to internalize, but it can go away or get better as time passes or time is spent apart from family.
“This author makes the claim that we live in a culture of fear where we are constantly reminded we need to be afraid of things. Right now, pandemic. Before, it was terrorist attacks. We all have been taught to be afraid of things. There is actually less to be afraid of than what is communicated to us in the media,” Underhill said.
COVID-19 lives at the forefront of everyone’s worries. Students in general are afraid, but the fear is more focused on the pandemic. Students have communicated to her their feelings of fear toward being on campus and anti-mask wearers, Underhill said.
“I definitely think that being on a new campus and during this COVID-19 time adds to the stress of it all,” Scott said.
Students struggle with anxiety, depression, difficult times and financial hardships. The world became more uncertain in the pandemic. The country came out of a four-year presidency with a sexist and racist president. Students compared to the past have to juggle a lot more now, Underhill said.
“Something I really admire about students at UNCA, but that I am sure must make people very stressed out, that a lot of students at UNCA are working a lot and going to school. Trying to juggle working full-time jobs, paying your own bills and keep up with classes. That has got to be so challenging and it’s right for people to feel so much anxiety,” Underhill said.
When you take a step back and look at it all, most crime is rare. When it does happen, it is put all over the media, making it hard not to feel like crime is common, but in reality, it is not, Underhill said.
“That is the nice thing about being at a university, you take these things and you study them and you realize that you deconstruct these truths. So there is this fear of kidnapping or these other things and then you’re like actually, when you look into it doesn’t happen that much. And then I think there is comfort in knowing that,” Underhill said.