College: it's a milestone on the long road to adulthood. For some, this mystical word symbolizes complete freedom, finally shaking off the remains of your crummy hometown to enter a bigger and better world. For others, it’s all about the adventure and the opportunity to encounter new experiences. However, all can agree that college is a place of discovery, learning, growth and - most importantly - fun. Where lifelong friendships are formed and hard-earned lessons gained.
However, for all its many values and benefits, college can also be a dangerous place for students. Reports show that one in five women and one in sixteen men were sexually assaulted on college campuses in 2015. That same year, the University of Chicago at Illinois reported 96 cases of aggravated assault, 16 incidents of robbery and 21 episodes of forceful sexual assault - the highest reported crime rates for any college campus.
In light of these disturbing statistics, federal law requires universities to maintain some sort of policy to discourage campus crime and protect the student body. This involves the usual safety precautions: campus police to act as first responders, gun-free campuses and emergency stations to name a few. However, the federal regulations also leave colleges with the freedom to implement their own unique policies - sometimes with unintended results.
Many colleges feel that the first step to stopping violence on campus is to ban weapons. At face value, this seems to be a logical first step. After all, you certainly can’t shoot someone without a gun and you can’t stab someone without a knife, so situation solved. However, upon deeper examination, one discovers that this policy actually introduces a variety of new problems. The biggest comes from what colleges classify as a weapon.Unfortunately, many of these policies result in the prohibition of defensive weapons such as pepper spray and mace - despite these items maintaining a legal status in all 50 states. One college student, who preferred to remain anonymous, had this to say about these policies.
“There’s no way I’m not carrying pepper spray with me. I don’t care if it's banned or not. I mean, it's not like I can physically fight a man off, I know I can’t… Sometimes, it’s almost like they don't want me to protect myself at all."
In response to these alarming restrictions, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) has started a chapter-based movement dedicated to bringing self-defense back to college campuses.
What is it?
When a 2014 FBI report showed that 1,165,383 violent crimes had occurred in that year alone, YAL found itself asking why. Why were there so many violent crimes and what could reasonably be done to stop them? The organization found its answer in the "Your Right. Your Life" movement. According to YAL’s official website, the “Your Life. Your Right” (YLYR) activism campaign was specifically designed to target and resolve violence on college campuses. The campaign's main goal is to educate college students about self-defense on college campuses and reform those university policies that are inadvertently placing students in danger.
As advocates for self-liberty, YAL believes that the ability to defend oneself is a natural right which should never be imposed upon by any government or institution. Since criminals clearly hold no regard for the laws or policies passed on campuses, YAL affirms that restricting students from carrying weapons actually puts law-abiding students at a greater risk. Thus, YAL concludes that allowing these law-abiding students to obtain weapons will put them in a better position to defend themselves and their fellow student body from becoming victims of violent crimes.
With over 800 YAL chapters across the country, the “Your Right. Your Life” movement has spread like metaphorical wildfire. Nationwide, students have begun petitioning their various student governments and campus administrations with grassroots activism highlighting the dangers of these restrictive campus safety policies - with rewarding results.
For example, after a string of violent crimes on campus, Capital University in Columbus, Ohio decided to impose strict campus safety laws. Some of the banned weapons mentioned in the new legislation included non-lethal items such as pepper spray. In continuance with the national "Your Life. Your Right" campaign, the local YAL chapter started flooding Capital University's student government requesting that legitimate policy reform must take place. Specifically, the chapter focused their efforts on educating the student body on the issues of self-defense and pressuring the student government to revise these policies. Ultimately, with a wide range of support from the student body, the YAL chapter managed to lift the pepper spray on campus.
A similar battle for liberty took place at the University of New Mexico. Due to New Mexico state law, firearms are prohibited on college campuses for any non-law enforcement personnel. However, similar to Capital University, the University of New Mexico extended this policy to include pepper spray and stun guns in its prohibited items. In response to this legislation, the Young Americans for Liberty established a coalition with the Young Americans for Freedom to petition the Student Senate into passing a new resolution, which would once again allow pepper spray and stun guns on campus.
In the end, the chapter ending up hosting a rally and gathered hundreds of students' signatures in support of the proposed legislation. The rally was covered by numerous local news stations and newspapers, making it a huge success for the chapter. While policy change has yet to take place, the chapter is hopeful that the continued pressure will convince the Student Senate to revise their policies.
All in all, the Young Americans for Liberty have been making much progress in preserving self-defense on college campuses. The aforementioned colleges are only the beginning of this national movement with more and more chapters joining by the day. With continued support, it is hoped that the project will continue to raise awareness about this crucial issue and infinite reform nationwide.
For more information on how to join this movement, visit this link.
Lead Image: Wolfram Burner via Flickr Creative Commons