In November, the Ursinus community was notified of an attempted abduction of a student which was reported to Campus Safety and the Collegeville Police.
The student described walking along 6th Avenue towards Main Street when a Silver Honda pulled up beside the student. The car carried three males who all wore ski masks. The perpetrators exited the vehicle and took hold of the student’s arm, then got back into the vehicle and left when the student yelled for help.
For many Ursinus students, the news added to existing concern about their safety around campus. Although this is the first time the school has dealt with this specific kind of situation, students have experienced verbal harassment when walking along Main Street, the road next to campus.
Sophomore Lindsey Reilly, for example, said she’s been “cat-called on Main Street several times.”
Senior Jenna Nienius has had similar experiences.
“The constant honking and yelling out of the windows of cars trying to hit on me or just calling me a slut is not appreciated. I’m just trying to walk home with my food from the c-store. What about a brown paper bag screams sexy?” she said.
During a recent Senate meeting, Director of Campus Safety, John Bera, discussed a new resource that will hopefully help students feel more protected when walking on Main Street: An app for Ursinus students to use to connect with a Campus Safety dispatcher.
“You’ll be able to GPS walk home with a dispatcher that is working at the desk in the Campus Safety office, where they’ll follow you where you’re at,” he said.
With the app, students will also be able to call a dispatcher for any assistance.
Safety concerns are elevated for those students who reside in the Main Street houses further away from campus. Junior Chrissy Foley said she has also been cat-called, and once had a frightening experience when she lived in Clamer, a Main Street house.
“I was walking back to Clamer from class and some older guy was passing me, who was going towards campus, beeped several times and yelled out his window that was rolled down. I remember turning my head to look to see who did it and he was a middle-aged white man, looked about my father’s age. Since I had just reached the sidewalk near Clamer, I cut through the grass to run up to the house, and closed the door quickly behind me,” she said.
Foley recalled feeling terrified because the man could’ve seen where she was going.
Now that Foley lives closer to campus, “I still get cat-called even when just walking to the crosswalk,” she said.
Another student, Julia Herrero ’21, who also lived further away on Main Street, in 944, experienced a similar situation.
“When walking on 9th avenue towards Main Street, I had a car drive past me, then make a U-turn directly after passing me and then follow me slowly down the rest of 9th avenue. So, I just ran to Main Street,” she said.
Sophmore Claude Wolfer discussed their experience walking down Main Street as part of a queer couple.
“When walking down Main Street with my girlfriend, when we crossed the street, someone honked at us. Being a queer couple in public is already kind of nervewracking. I’m still not really sure how safe it is in Collegeville, like where most of the demographic stands in their level of acceptance,” they said.
Some students have adjusted their behaviors to deal with these experiences. Junior Sarah Noon talked about her friend who lived in 944, who would walk home late at night after studying in the library.
“She was constantly walking alone, pretty long distance, late at night. At least once she called me and was like ‘can you just stay on the phone with me while I walk home because there’s a car that’s driving next to me really slow,’” she said.
Bianca Joseph ’21 has “definitely walked to the Goodwill and the Dollar store by myself on multiple occasions,” but “wouldn’t even think about doing that once it’s dark out.”
Some students have expressed concern that these kinds of interactions could take place more often with the completion of The Commons, which has been advertised as not just a destination for the Ursinus community but a way to “strengthen connections with the local Collegeville community and beyond.”
In a statement made in 2018 regarding the Commons, President Brock Blomberg said, “This is a place that will strengthen our connection to the Collegeville Community. Anyone will be able to come to the Commons and experience what makes Ursinus so special.”
Reilly shared her thoughts on the possibility of The Commons drawing more individuals unaffiliated with the school onto Ursinus’ campus.
“I think it’s a bad idea, I feel as though allowing the outside community into a campus building will make the space about them rather than the students. Especially with the recent attempted abduction and the history of Main Street towards students, I feel that it’s ultimately putting the students behind the public,” she said.
Senior Kie Brewer also worried that the development may be dangerous considering the recurring incidents on Main Street.
“There is a thin line of safety on Main Street that protects students, especially students of color when we walk on the campus side passing Collegeville residents. Opening the Commons is like giving the racists and abductors the window to try even more harmful things. It should only be open to students,” she said.
Other students think a shared Commons could improve both communities.
Junior Maggie Frymoyer said, “I think it’s totally valid that students don’t want the community coming on campus into our spaces, I also can see how it would create a great opportunity. As someone who had a parent that worked at a college in our town it was always a really great experience to visit the college spaces. It helped me develop a relationship with the students in my town. I’m hopeful the Commons is able to do that in the future.”