The University Record, October 1, 1997

Commentary: Somehow, we should have . . .

Friends and neighbors left flowers on the steps of Tamara Williams' North Campus apartment. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Somehow, we should have known. We should have known what was happening to Tamara Williams on our own campus. We should have been able to give her counseling, support, help in whatever way she needed it to avoid the tragic event that culminated in her violent death last week.

Somehow, we should have been able to prevent violence against anyone on our campus. An attack against one person on our campus affects the entire University community, and we all feel violated and vulnerable.

Somehow, we should have been there to stop the violent acts that occurred at our North Campus housing unit.

There is a multitude of prevention and awareness programs at the U-M that counsel students, faculty and staff so that they are able to recognize and avoid dangerous situations. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) publishes a handbook distributed to students at orientation that offers tips on what to do in potentially violent situations such as rape, robbery, assault and domestic violence. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) distributes brochures; has a crisis line; offers free counseling services; and holds workshops on stalking, sexual harassment, dating and domestic violence, and self-defense for women. SAPAC has contacts outside the University that provide shelter for victims of domestic violence. It also co-sponsors with DPS Safewalk and Northwalk, the University's nighttime safety walking services.

Her neighbors did the right thing. DPS dispatch logged more than 25 calls to their 911 emergency line from neighbors awakened by the screams.

DPS officers did the right thing. Response to the first call was within three minutes. DPS dispatchers followed the standard procedure for emergency calls, sending police, emergency medical personnel and DPS officers to the scene instantly.

The University itself has done a good job of trying to educate its population about violence against women.

All of that and the many more safety nets at the U-M couldn't keep Tamara Williams safe. But many of us continue to feel responsible, guilty of not offering enough, of not being able to keep one of the brightest young students entrusted to the University safe within that environment.

The University is an institution inhabited by young people who are, many for the first time, away from home. It is a place for experimenting, for learning about new things, new people and different cultures. It is the first taste of freedom and responsibility for many of them. Students experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex. They explore different religions, cultures and relationships. And sometimes they find danger.

Tamara Williams found herself in a dangerous relationship, but she was, according to her friends and teachers, a strong woman. We will never know whether she thought the relationship would get better or whether she felt there was no immediate threat to her, or whether she just wanted to work it out by herself.

Members of the University community have expressed shock and anger at the murder of a student who would have graduated in May at the age of 21. Many have also expressed feelings of guilt and frustration at not being able to help.

Somehow, we should have.

Somehow, now, we must go forward and make our campus even safer, make help more available, and educate even more people that violence is not an option at the U-M.

Somehow, we will.