The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 64.0°F | Overcast

Women's Petition Should Not Be Discounted

I am writing in response to criticisms raised by Brenda D. Carpenter G ["Women's Petition Was Out of Bounds," Feb. 10] regarding the women's safety petition about the proposed new dormitory location in Cambridgeport.

While legal blame for crimes that may yet occur in relation to the location of the new dormitory certainly does not lie on the shoulders of President Charles M. Vest and Chairman Paul E. Gray '56, these two individuals have key influence on the future home routes of a large number of people who will live in MIT affiliated housing. One can reasonably place a certain amount of responsibility for the environment in which people will live on their shoulders.

According to Cambridge Police Department crime reports, the Cambridgeport area has approximately five times the rate of street robberies as the MIT area. The crime data also indicates 40 housebreaks in the proposed new dormitory area compared with one in the MIT area.

It may be said that if one feels endangered by the location of the new housing, than one should simply choose not to live there. However, the people who put forth this safety petition are not content with that - they would like to continue to live in MIT housing, and perhaps improve conditions for everyone as a whole by pointing out to the administration that any additional student dormitories should be built with student safety in mind. The petition acknowledges this is a "complex issue requiring compromise" and urges the pursuit of other locations for the dormitory.

As for the idea that "adults should be capable of assuming the responsibility of getting themselves home safely," one can only laugh at the idea that a mature adult is somehow safe from unexpected events. I suppose mature, responsible people who only walk home during the day, before 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. in the winter, are somehow immune to attacks. It is also lamentable to note the belief that the victim is somehow responsible if precautions were not taken.

Let's address the safety plight of the 1,200 women graduate students at MIT. For the 900 who do not live on campus, safety is indeed their concern. They live in Cambridge, and their safety concerns must now be addressed to the city. However, I do not think most people want to have to worry about their safety, that's why we have police departments, neighborhood watch programs, and city councils. People take their concerns to the people who can address them.

For graduate students living in MIT housing, the people who can address safety concerns are the MIT police and the administration. It is not helpful to sidestep the issue by pointing at groups of people who live in "worse" situations and arguing that these people put up with it and so can everyone else.

Now let us address the "glaring inaccuracy." The petition authors maintain that "for a wide majority of women safety is the number one priority for their living environment." Carpenter claims some sort of contradiction because the 69 signers did not constitute a majority of the women living on campus.

Having spoken with the petition's originators, the observation came from the Graduate Student Council housing survey in which respondents rated the things that were important to them in choosing where to live, in which women rated safety high. The petition had little publicity and was primarily aimed at women graduate students in Ashdown and Green Hall. It received over half the Ashdown women's signatures, and typical survey response rates of over 20 percent are considered high.

Thus the statement that a minority of women are concerned about safety is not validated. One must access the number of women who actually heard about the survey versus the number of women who took action and signed it. If this petition had been mailed to all graduate student women on campus, perhaps the statement may claim validity.

Even if we were to suppose that this petition did in fact represent the opinions of a minority of women, I find it disturbing that Carpenter feels that these people are in the minority and should therefore be discounted. Carpenter supposes the majority is more interested in convenient housing but isn't holding her own petition, which by her own argument tells the whole truth.

Carpenter gives us the wise advice that with a few simple precautions one can safely arrive home at night. I think we can safely say that the most intelligent precaution would be to live in a safe area.

Jennifer B. Carlson G