Opinion: Night classes pose safety risk
I joined AU for a specific program but taking the majority of my required classes means I commute at midnight
This article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff. Editor’s Note: This op-ed contains mention of sexual assault. This op-ed has been updated with more recent information regarding the author's communication with the University.
My mother took night classes in graduate school, risking her safety and telling me several stories about strangers following her home after class. During my first internship at American University, my boss told me about two of her friends who had been sexually assaulted in D.C. The first was sitting on her apartment’s stoop at 7 p.m. when she was assaulted. Her attacker was emboldened by the dark, knowing no one would see what he was doing. The second was on the Metro at 3 p.m. She was alone in the train car with a man when he assaulted her, empowered by the lack of witnesses as it wasn’t rush hour.
If safety lessons growing up, the rape alert system I received for Christmas before I left for college or the statistic that 83 percent of disabled women are sexually assaulted weren’t enough, these stories certainly taught me that to stay safe, you do not go out alone at night.
When people ask me my career goals, I say “ideally a speechwriter, but more realistically a social media political campaigner.” But speechwriting classes are only offered in person 8:20-10:50 p.m. I live in Adams Morgan. The class I came to AU to take would require me to commute at midnight on public transit — if there’s even a bus available — or pay $20 weekly to get in a Lyft with a stranger at 11 p.m.
I chose AU because I wanted to specifically study political communication. For that concentration, two out of the twelve required classes are only offered in-person from 8:20-10:50 p.m. Another class also ends after dark, meaning if I do the concentration, a quarter of my classes will come with a safety risk. Even if these classes weren’t required, I’m still not able to take classes I’m passionate about because I live off campus. We can take seven electives for our major, and of the top seven I want to take, three are only offered as night classes.
I asked my academic advisor if I can take these classes during the day in a different semester, wanting to be flexible and thinking maybe I just need to wait until they’re offered during the day. She said that they will continue to only be offered during this time block because they are taught by adjunct professors who work full-time jobs during the day. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from experienced professors, and they are a significant part of why I joined AU. I just didn’t realize that to do so — to get an equal education to my less-at-risk white male peers — I’d be forced to choose between the education I deserve and my personal safety.
Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program.” Exclusively-night courses, especially those required for majors, minors and concentrations, exclude women and deny them their education if they value their safety. The 4,930 undergraduate women at AU should not have to choose between getting an education and not being assaulted. Women at AU should have educational freedom.
AU’s Office of Equity and Title IX says it aims to “prevent … violence, harassment, and discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy or parenting, age, [and] disability.” However, there are 106 undergraduate classes during the 8:20-10:50 p.m. time block, and only fifteen of them are offered online. This means that there are 91 courses at AU that undergraduate, at-risk students — such as women, those perceived as women, LGBTQ+ students, disabled individuals, people of color and low-income individuals — would have to risk violence and harassment in order to take. These classes appear in 41 departments and every school at the University.
I understand why night classes exist, and I’m glad that students with day jobs can get an education too. I am not proposing that night classes be abolished or even that they offer other time blocks. I respect the schedules of the adjunct professors and would like to learn from them when they’re available. However, AU proved that virtual classes are possible, and equal education opportunities should be extended to at-risk students who are concerned for their safety with a reasonable requirement of an online alternative for night classes.
Please sign my petition to the Equity & Title IX Office and the Dean of Students asking that any courses that are only offered during the 8:20-10:50 p.m. time block be required to offer a live online and/or asynchronous option so students who cannot safely commute at night can still get their education. At this time, OASIS and I are working to determine the appropriate person to speak to about this matter.
Greta Mauch is a junior in the School of Communication.