Sunday, October 21, 2012

The absolute value of two evils

Meerkats live in community, and one of the more interesting aspects of their social interactions is the alarm call. When a lookout sees a threat such as a badger, it calls to the other meerkats to alert them. Scientists are perplexed by this, because by drawing attention to himself, the lookout may put himself in danger even as he protects the other members of his community. (I remember this little anecdote because when my professor, also my undergrad adviser, explained this he cited an experiment wherein a grad student dragged a dead badger through a prairie dog community while they all shrieked at him. My adviser got quite a bit of amusement out of this.)

The university I attend has sent out four "Public Safety Alerts" in the past 36 hours. The first one was about a male non-student who approached and basically tried to solicit services from a female student. The other three events were basically just teenage and young adult townies attacking students.

This is pretty upsetting. Making it even worse, none of the students decided to file police reports. I don't know if this is because the university urged them to not to or because they themselves were hesitant. This is silly. To my mind, there is no reason not to file a police report when you're attacked. A physical assault isn't an accident and shouldn't escalate from a misunderstanding with a stranger. What other reason would you have for hesitating to get the police involved?

I think that one other deterrent is fear. But why are we letting fear win? Yes, these people might have the power to hurt us. But is that a reason to let them get away with it?! It's really our civil responsibility to report such incidents, and doing so is a very real way to protect our fellow students and citizens. Am I the only one who watched Law and Order? There's something called "priors" and something else called "motive". Both help a conviction of a criminal.... and by not reporting violent incidents, YOU are responsible for keeping this predator's record clean while he or she has actually already committed an offense.

I think something that further aggravates this situation is the divide between university and residents that occurs in many towns. Students may not want to appear to be elitist or prejudice by reporting what may seem, in the great scheme of things, a small crime. However, knowing that these attacks are happening is obviously going to make students more suspicious of residents and more hesitant to interact with any of them, wondering if they too might have some bone to pick with university students. One way that we can fight this cycle of mistrust and division is by making everyone feel safe. Everyone should do their part to report crimes and to take note of suspicious behaviors, creating a community where we know that we can trust our neighbors to back us up and look out for us even if they might feel uncomfortable getting involved. Haven't we all seen the news article about the girl who got the crap kicked out of her by two bigger girls as a security guard and a bunch of people stood around? Well guess what? The security guard wasn't the only one who could have done something (although he should have). Didn't read that article make you feel a little less safe, knowing that even if people are around it might not save you from being attacked? Let's leave this mantra of "sucks to be you" behind and look out for each other, because in reality that means that someone else is always looking out for US.

Prairie dogs also selflessly alert their friends of predators. Shouldn't you?

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