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Armed Robbery Gives Victim A New Perspective on Safety

Column by Shang-Lin Chuang
Contributing Editor

On Monday night, I became a statistic.

I am the girl who was robbed at 9 p.m. Monday in the women's bathroom in the basement of the Student Center.

Yes, it was 9 p.m., and yes, it was in the Student Center.

Fortunately, I walked away unscathed physically and with only the loss of only some money and jewelry. The incident was fairly mild, and I didn't suffer much emotional or psychological trauma from it. The robber was not a large man and I never even saw a weapon.

Since then, many people have told me how lucky I was. They have said how they are sorry that the event happened but that it happened the best way it could have. And I agree.

However, what happened afterward, when I began to think about it, proved the most disturbing.

I can live with the fact that I was mugged. I can live with the fact that I lost some money. I can even live with the fact that for five minutes of my life, I was threatened by a man I never knew. What I cannot live with are the circumstances in which the mugging took place.

Had I been mugged walking on Memorial Drive at 1 a.m., it would have been different. Had I been mugged after using the ATM on Massachusetts Avenue, it would have been different. Had I been mugged in a less frequented part of campus, it would have been different. Had I been mugged in Central Square, it would have been different. But I was mugged in the Student Center - at 9 p.m.

I have done some pretty crazy things during my stay at MIT, but going to the bathroom in the basement of the Student Center at 9 p.m., after drinking coffee at Tosci's, was not one of them.

How many of us have gone to that same bathroom alone? How many of us were there later than 9 p.m.? How many of us have used an Institute bathroom alone, later at night? The one next to Lobby 10? The one on the fifth floor of the Student Center?

I don't know what could have been done. The Campus Police could lock the Student Center, but that's not very convenient. I could choose not to leave my room after dark, but that's very unreasonable. We could have security cameras in the bathrooms, but that would be an invasion of privacy; besides, the mugging could have taken place anywhere. I could have checked the bathroom before I went in, but I doubt my attacker was visible at first glance.

So what is there to do? When can we be sure we can be perfectly safe? Can I ever go to that bathroom again? What should I do the next time I have to stay up late at Athena? These are the questions that I have been asking myself ever since the mugging, and the answers bother me.

I have always thought of the MIT campus as being very safe. I have told my family and friends that I can walk home at 3 o'clock in the morning from Athena and be confident that nothing will happen to me.

I am not saying that that's no longer true. There are very few armed robberies at MIT and certainly very few in the Student Center. My attack was definitely unusual and is not something we should expect. However, it does shed some light on the question of how safe we really are.

The answer is that we are not safe, anywhere. Unfortunately, there really isn't anything that I, and for that matter, anybody, can do. That incident could have taken place anywhere and any time and involved anyone. If I didn't go to the bathroom, it would have been Cindy (the girl who walked in and called the police after I yelled for help). I could have taken a self-defense class (and I will), but, honestly speaking, there wasn't an opportunity for me to have done anything on Friday night.

The only thing we can do is always be aware of where we are and who is around us. It is a silly, often joked about thing, but it makes sense: Go to the bathroom in pairs. Although I don't think anything serious would have happened, I don't want to think about what could have happened had Cindy not walked in when she did. Be aware of suspicious people, and notify the police. If you are a man and you hear a yell from the women's bathroom, call the police to check it out. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

It will take me a while to feel safe when I am alone. It will take me a while to be able to go the bathroom alone. It will take me awhile to unlock my suite door. I will get over this incident someday, but my new understanding of safety will stay with me forever.

Shang-Lin Chuang, a junior double majoring in biology and chemical engineering, is the incoming chairman of The Tech. She wants to thank her friends and family for the tremendous amount of support they have given her.