Reworking the walk home

My gilded hero. Graphic by Elizabeth Hein.


As I walk home from parties with my phone in one hand and my Taser in the other, I hold the delusion that I am invincible. If I were up against a jacked mystery man that wanted to take me out, I would have them begging for mercy — between my weapon and the intense three months where I took taekwondo in the sixth grade. 

In my head, however, I know that I am quite vulnerable alone, especially at night. Especially because I am a woman. 

Nikki Houck, a senior psychology-criminology major, admitted that she presents herself as someone who could become an easier target. 

“Sadly, I, as a woman, don’t feel super safe walking by myself at night,” Houck said. “I am pretty small. And I’m not a strong person.” 

The act of a strong, tall man guiding a defenseless woman home has been an important tradition in Western culture for decades, particularly on college campuses. Butler students specifically take care to participate in walking women home, and with the city of Indianapolis just minutes away, who can blame us? Between the timely warnings of sexual assaults Butler University Police Department distributes and the miscellaneous incidents reported on the Daily Crime Log, the hard truth is that the Butler bubble is not void of crime or ill-intentioned people. 

Senior English major Lauren Varhol stressed that the poor night visibility on campus makes speed-walking home alone especially frightening. 

“I don’t really feel safe [on campus], especially by I Lot,” Varhol said. “There’s a lot less [street lights] as you get further away from campus. I’m talking about the Greek houses, the senior houses; they’re just like there’s no lights when you’re walking around there. It’s very scary.” 

Despite the impression of a walk home to be seemingly chivalrous, I find the need to always have a man walk me home at night unnecessary. I know myself — I know when I have had too much to drink, when I am not safe and when I am capable of walking down the street and making a right. If I want a chaperone home, I will ask for one. Yet, dead sober or not, a walk home is almost never an offer. It is a demand. 

That is what needs to change. 

The outdated assumption that a man needs to be arm-in-arm with a woman to keep her safe has no place in the 21st century. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether a man should walk a woman home; all students, regardless of gender or identity, have different preferences on how they, and if they, would want to be walked home. 

Houck emphasized that deciding the walk home should look like a conversation to ensure that all parties involved are heard. She explained the preferences of herself, and others, are based on several factors. 

“[The situation] is super nuanced,” Houck said. “I think it does vary depending on literally every party you go to, how drunk you are, who you’re with, things like that. Personally, I would be super comfortable with girls walking me home. That would never bother me.” 

When in doubt, an escort home should be someone who can make the walk enjoyable and safe. Most people prefer to walk with their friends or partners; a new acquaintance from the same night is considered risky when personal motives are unclear. Beyond that, having to be alone with a stranger in the middle of the night would make anyone uncomfortable, which is why it’s best to work the buddy system on a night out. 

Like many other women on campus, Varhol prefers to be walked home at night by her boyfriend, but she will settle for a friend as well. 

“I feel like [my boyfriend] could almost protect me more,” Vahol said. “But honestly, as long as I had someone that I felt comfortable with, and that I think is more muscular than me, that’s fine.” 

Although safety may be the prime reason for escorting a friend home, the journey can also include unforeseen positives. 

Zach Coulis, a senior environmental studies and biology double major, enjoys building connections with new and old friends during the stroll home. He doesn’t stop at the door either; the walk continues into the living room to debrief the night’s events and other shenanigans. 

“Typically, someone has a two-hour conversation about whatever drama was going on in their life, and then everyone [is] just hanging out and having fun,” Coulis said. “Or you end up somehow walking through the entire house and doing a tour … It feels like a college student thing where you never know [what you’re doing]. You’re just hanging out at that point.” 

After walking a friend home, Coulis also participates in less fun activities, such as setting up a trashcan next to the bed and filling a glass of water for the morning hangover. These thoughtful gestures go the extra mile in showing that you care about your friend’s well-being and are greatly appreciated when they have had one too many. 

Company on a hike home should not be reserved for women, but it should also be extended to men and beyond as well. When I started asking guy friends or other men this question, they would roll their eyes or shoot me a weird look. Yet, the expectation for men to continue to act tough and “be a man” is rather unfair; men should not be forced to subscribe to societal roles. Affording men this affection helps break down those hyper-masculine standards and sets an all-encompassing standard to how people should be treated. Asking this simple question can deepen emotional intimacy between friends and relationships. 

Varhol had previously popped the question to her boyfriend with a positive result. 

“He was out in Broad Ripple with his friends, and I walked him home back to his apartment,” Varhol said. “So I think especially if you’re drinking, it’s always good to have someone there with you to make sure you get home safe.” 

Houck shares a similar sentiment, stressing that offering to accompany someone home is an act of kindness that should be practiced on campus. 

“It doesn’t hurt to ask no matter who it is, you know, if it’s a man or a woman,” Houck said. “We should all be caring people and make sure that everyone is getting home safe, regardless of what their gender is.” 

Asking someone if they want company on the way home does not have to be a huge gesture either — just a casual question that can be slipped into conversation. If they express disinterest, then accept their response. Taking “no” for an answer goes a long way in making others feel safe on campus, which is, after all, the whole point of walking others home.  


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