Brigid McCarthy ’25 (She/Her), Staff Writer

At any college campus, women know to party with hands over the tops of their cups and utilize the buddy system. BIPOC students at predominantly white institutions (PWI’s) know to not walk home alone at night. At Davidson, it’s no different: When Armfield Courtyard (F) re-opened post-COVID earlier this semester, the re-opening of an ongoing conversation about safety in the party scene was bound to follow.

On Wednesday, October 27th, Alice Garner ‘24 took to Instagram to restart this conversation with her narrative, sparking familiar backlash, defensiveness, support, anger, and—from all sides—frustration. As female and BIPOC students continually struggle to feel welcomed in spaces not built for them, some students and groups on campus are leading moves toward social and legal change in lieu of overt administrative support.

Garner’s exposition, titled “Why we must dissociate from Patterson Court Circle,” recounts her experience as an Asian American woman in Davidson’s predominantly white-populated Greek social space, and advocates for a more inclusive and safe environment for students to party.

“F [Armfield], and all places on campus, should be a place where all people, no matter their gender, sexual identity, or race should be accepted, validated, and feel authentically themselves,” she wrote in a Google Doc linked in the bio of her personal Instagram account, an account which has since been deactivated.

Michaela Gibbons ‘22 was in Connecticut when the infographic went live. As murmurs began to pop up around campus, she spurred into action from outside of the Davidson bubble, coordinating personal invitations and talking points for an emergency student body meeting.

“My freshman, sophomore year, when there was public outcry around something that was happening socially on campus, students with somewhat of a social capital, or even organizations with a little bit of knowledge on this topic, would organize an open student body meeting in Hance… I see a lot of disconnect. And if we all could just get in the same room, then maybe we can actually come up with something, which is what happened,” Gibbons said. 

Among the ideas that came out of that meeting was a “safe space” at Armfield apartments, an apartment solely dedicated to taking a pause. Second floor F residents Sophie Danish ‘22 and Sydney Finkelstein ‘22 volunteered to host the space over the coming weekend, October 29 and 30, along with their other roommates Aislinn Whalen ‘22, Eliza Patterson ‘22, and Aria Een ‘22. 

Following the meeting, Gibbons also coordinated signs to hang up on lamp posts over the weekend showcasing names and numbers of safe, sober Martin Court residents to call if needed. These practices, of quiet rooms and upperclassman connections, are based on Gibbons’ experiences as a freshman. The pandemic, she says, exacerbated the divide between Armfield residents and weekend visitors, and also retired what were once normal safeguards on the weekends.

“A lot of these practices were lost because of COVID,” Gibbons said.

Garner’s exposé follows years of discomfort from marginalized groups on campus; it’s a publication that falls in line with other awareness campaigns related to inclusion on the Davidson party scene. The “Beyond the Frats” initiative, first called “Burn Down the Frats,” was a 2019 initiative that studied the implications of a Greek-centered social scene through a viral website, spearheaded by four students in Dr. Katie Horowitz’s Gender and Sexuality Studies “Sex Radicals” course. Alexander Suarez ‘21 founded the Monuments Initiative in 2020, an exploration into the power of physical space on campus and its disproportionate allocation to predominantly-white groups. The project sparked ideas about developing Patterson Court’s accessibility to minority groups. Sound familiar?

Watching the years pass, current seniors are left unsurprised at the reactivated discourse and frustrated at the lack of real progress.

“ It is not a new debate that’s happening on this campus,” Patterson said. “There have very consistently been groups of people who have brought up the fact that space is allocated really disproportionately here and that there are not a lot of spaces for people of color or other marginalized folks on this campus to gather and socialize.”

Although recent re-implementation and re-prioritization of safety practices remain at the forefront of the social scene, students are also critical of these present initiatives which aim to mitigate harm rather than uproot the source of danger and address “structural issues downstairs,” as Finkelstein said. 

The initiatives also raise potential concerns about continued student safety, with Gibbons herself admitting the simultaneous lack of and need for a vetting process, both for apartment hosts and for people on the list. 

Valeria Donoso ‘22, president of Students Against Sexual Violence (SASV), is trained in restorative justice; she hosted a restorative justice circle on October 28th with the Sigma Psi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the Upsilon Mu chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority Inc., and the Alpha Gamma chapter of Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc., and has plans to host restorative justice circles with IFC fraternities in the spring. She spoke on the need to amplify established resources equipped to handle high-stress situations and discussions. 

“I don’t support the whole safe spaces on campus… none of these people are screened or vetted for,” said Donoso. “These people aren’t trained to support survivors. And if a survivor comes to them with an experience, a survivor is expecting a certain response. And […] if you don’t have that response, it’s going to do more harm than good.” 

Donoso has been involved with SASV since her freshman year, and spoke parallel to Alice on her identity as a woman of color at Davidson, and her personal frustration with fluctuating interest in justice for sexual violence. 

“It’s a very white-oriented conversation that people have been having. People are just focusing on the fact that this isn’t a safe space [in terms of] sexual violence…. But BIPOC’s don’t feel safe in these spaces at all. Like, even if I know for sure no one’s gonna assault me, I still don’t feel safe or welcomed in these spaces,” she said, before adding “It’s so gaslighting to see people all of a sudden caring so much about sexual violence when there wasn’t any of this attention on us before. And it makes me feel like I was crazy the whole time.” 

Patterson Court Council (PCC) is responding to these conversations with initiatives of their own, from working with the Title IX office and the Student Life Office to implement educational programming for first-year PCC members to uplifting SASV programs and resources within their own organizations. 

They also hosted an open forum the Wednesday after Gibbons’ emergency student body meeting. Amid conversation about the Greek presence at Armfield, PCC President Grace Hall ‘22 maintains Armfield’s neutrality due to its location off the Court and stresses PCC’s limited power to enact structural change. 

“Most community questions [at the meeting] were about Armfield (F) and safety concerns students have about that space. We need to keep in mind that Armfield (F) is not under the jurisdiction of PCC,” said Hall. “While PCC is happy to host and be a part of these conversations, ultimately we cannot structurally change the way RLO policies work, like the lottery process.” 

What’s next? Gibbons knows of a fellow senior, Yunah Han ‘22, who is working with SASV to develop and circulate a petition to increase financial support for Davidson’s Title IX office. 

“If two-thirds of the student body wants something, the Board of Trustees has to do it. So, we can get two-thirds of the student body to sign this petition, we can start… strengthening our Title IX office,” Gibbons said. “We’re hoping that some money is going to start moving around through this petition… I’m hoping that since there is a huge push for money to be moved around that ultimately is going to make a difference, because every decision with the administration is a business decision, you have to present it to them financially.” 

In reflecting on the impacts of their actions, Garner and Gibbons know just as there is a ways to go, there’s potential for change—but only if students realize that they’re the catalysts. 

“Davidson prides itself on being better than this… it’s been disappointing and disheartening to see that we’re really not better. And if we want to be better then we need to do something,” Gibbons said. “A lot of students on campus don’t feel supported by other students. You know, we’re all unsupported by the administration, let’s be honest, they’re not doing a lot. So we need to start helping and caring for each other. Because otherwise, we’re gonna have people fall through the cracks.” 

“I wasn’t expecting PCC to shut down because of that [the exposé]. I’m not naive… I wanted to bring awareness and create conversation. And so I think that was what I did,” Garner said. “I truly do believe Davidson can become a better place.”