My mom and I were never quite on the same page when I was growing up.
I was always the teenager counting down the days until I could move out and never look back. So, I jumped at the chance to move into UCLA’s dorms the summer before my first year and participate in a summer program. My mom helped move me in and I was dreading the final goodbye, mostly because I wanted to get it over with.
Instead of getting really sentimental, however, my mom gave me a quick hug and asked me to promise her one thing. I was expecting her to say something general along the lines of “Try your best” or “Always believe in yourself.” Instead, what I got was, “Just promise me you’ll never walk by yourself at night, okay?”
I kept that promise for about two whole weeks. I quickly became comfortable with the new college setting because I was so incredibly excited to be in an environment of freedom. It became normal for me to walk around Westwood Village by myself well after 1 a.m., going from one friend’s place to another. This continued for my next three years here, and while I’m not a sociology student, there are trends I noticed as a girl walking by herself at night.
I first thought it was sad that we live in a society where a mom feels the need to warn her daughter not to be alone at night. After all, I’m sure she didn’t tell my brother the same. But I liked to assume the best intentions in people and a community, so I disagreed with her warning.
And then summer came around.
Summer at UCLA is an interesting time because the campus is visited by many diverse groups: There are clubs and groups from literally all over the world, and many people who are not UCLA students take classes.
That’s when I realized that during the school year, UCLA is in its own kind of bubble of bright students. But the neighborhoods outside campus are not like that.
Things were a lot different in the summer when I walked back from work in Westwood every night around 11 p.m. North Westwood Village was no longer overflowing with college students; it seemed bare and empty. I felt anxious every time I passed a group of intoxicated guys, and I learned to expect any kind of catcalling. I also noticed the groups doing the catcalling never attended UCLA full-time.
I know this because I unapologetically asked every time. This became a regular practice each week. But instead of feeling uncomfortable about it, I just became annoyed that I couldn’t walk near my apartment without being harassed.
And then, I reached my limit.
I was walking back down Gayley Avenue, and I heard them before I saw them – a group of around six men who seemed like they were trying to find a party. I walked a little faster and curled my right hand into a fist.
“Save a horse, ride my face,” one of them said as I was just about to pass them.
I turned around and socked him before he could finish his sentence. Luckily, instead of jumping me, his friends thought that was the funniest thing that could ever happen.
That was the most I’ve ever involved myself in these kinds of interactions. It’s not always the same for other women, though. It can be much more frightening. Once, I was talking to a friend working the door during a party at a fraternity. A woman frantically ran up to us.
“The guys behind me are following me and I don’t know what to do,” she said.
My friend told her to go inside the house, and the members of the fraternity stopped the men following her from entering the house.
I could recite countless first-hand incidents and second-hand occurrences like these, but the trend remains the same: The only reason I would ever feel uncomfortable walking around Westwood at night by myself is not because of UCLA students, but because of the people a college town attracts.
I know a lot of people may not have had the same experiences I did, but I also know many people who did. I’m proud of UCLA’s student body for creating the community I wish I could live in for my entire life.
After the negativity we’re inundated with on a daily basis from all forms of media, it’s important to recognize the positives: Not every male wants to hurt you after 10 p.m. and not all fraternities are malicious. Making those generalizations are just as bad as victimizing or shaming women based on what they’re wearing.
I agree with my mom, and if I had a daughter, I would also not want her to walk alone. I would want her to feel safe if she chose to. I would want her to go somewhere like UCLA, where people more or less look out for each other.
Iliopoulos was an Opinion columnist 2015-2017.