I first walked Scary Path on a frigid night in winter during my freshman year. The path winds among looming redwoods and open space between Kappa Alpha and Kappa Sigma. Though I was with friends, I couldn’t help but feel frightened. The path was by far the shortest route home, but it was completely dark, and I stumbled occasionally on sharp rocks and branches. The five minutes it took to get to the end of the 528-foot trail left me questioning my safety there for days to come.
Concerned, I spoke with then-ASSU president Elizabeth Woodson to share my worries about student safety on the path, particularly for undergraduate women. Elizabeth revealed many other students had also stressed their concern about the path to the executive branch, but that other priorities had overtaken efforts to improve the path. We brought the problem to the administration, which at first was hesitant to work on this issue. We continued to press on the issue, and eventually Stanford agreed to set up a working group, which I co-chaired with an administrator, to study the issue.
The working group consisted of five students and seven administrators representing different groups and communities on campus. We met every other month for an hour to discuss issues relevant to the path, usually with the students speaking about how many people felt scared on the path. We asked to have the path lighted and paved. Administrators initially resisted these improvements, citing various impediments including the endangered salamander species in the area as well as obtaining regional and state permits.
Worried that improvements to the path might fail, I reached out to more students about Scary Path, especially in the surrounding houses, the sororities that mixed with the two fraternities, nearby community centers and freshman dorms. This feedback illustrated that nearly 100 percent of women felt unsafe on the path and that minority men felt particularly less safe than white male students. The students on the working group then urged the group to survey all students in the area for a wider sample. When the survey was delayed, our team leveraged the media, including the Palo Alto Daily and ABC7, to bring more attention to the issue and put pressure on the administration to follow through with the survey.
The survey was ultimately conducted last spring. While the response rate was small (due to being sent out late in the quarter), it overwhelmingly showed that female students were fearful of Scary Path but continued to use it due to extreme convenience. Following the survey, the working group finally agreed that a path should be paved and lit, and the representatives from the University Architect’s office mapped out a plan. In December 2016, almost two years after my first walk down the path, representatives on the working group approved a plan to build an alternate path with lighting.
The fear that students described on Scary Path emanated from a stereotypical image of sexual assault, where a stranger jumps from behind a bush on a dark path. However, the reality is that the majority (70 percent) of sexual assailants know their victims. Certainly, the campus is safer with more pavement and lighting, as well as better police patrols, but a paradigm shift is imperative. We need to ensure that Stanford is using evidence-based prevention education and ensure we align our sexual assault response with best practices. Stanford’s sexual assault policies have come to national attention in recent months, and we should take our place as a leader in shifting norms, rather than a laggard protecting the old status quo.
One dark path through Stanford is about to be lit, but all of us must now stand up against sexual assault. Lighting a path didn’t happen simply because students in the working group were relentless; it happened because activists across the university took action. No matter if you’re doing your part to stop campus sexual assault in your own dorm, student group or athletic team or through activism or policy change, there is always a place for your voice. There is still so much work to be done on this issue, so keep talking. I know at least for myself, this is just the beginning.
— Alexis Kallen ’18
Correction: A previous version of this op-ed stated that Stanford’s Knoll Path Working Group decided to build lights along the existing Knoll Path, or “Scary Path,” and that permits had been received for such a project.
Instead, the Working Group decided to construct a new path in the area, but moved slightly to the north. Permits are still pending for this project. The Daily regrets this error.
Contact Alexis Kallen at akallen ‘at’ stanford.edu.