The rapes on the York University campus are among a series of violent incidents that have occurred on universities across the country - I count four schools that have reported sexual assaults on campus in the past month.
The situation brings back memories of 1970 and my freshman year at Radcliffe - just before the college merged with Harvard. A few weeks before American Thanksgiving, a rapist was stalking campus dormitories targetting all-women residences and, basically, terrorizing the female population. Three rapes took place over a four-day period.
This happened before the issues of violence against women had reached the mainstream, before Susan Brownmiller published Against Our Will, the groundbreaking book about rape, and before there was such a thing as Rape Crisis Centres.
A group of us had, however, formed Harvard's first women's group, poetically titled Radcliffe Women to Keep Mind and Body Together. We had been what was then referred to as a consciousness-raising organism but when the rapist struck, we quickly swung into action.
We were, we said, attending one of the world's elite universities - but what good is philosophy, poetry and biology when you can't walk the streets in safety? Educate us for the real world and give us a self-defence course - free (well not really. Tuition rates were exorbitant and we wanted this to be part of the package).
The college administration saw the point and acceded to our demands. It was a watershed moment for feminism on campus. Students grasped the importance of women organizing, a new awareness was created about how one incidence of violence against women can terrorize an entire population and our tiny little collective helped trigger about 12 new ones.
I get that this is 2007 and political emphases have changed - I don't expect feminism in its older form to make huge return to campuses across Canada. But student councils should be pushing for self defence courses on campus - the need is still totally relevant.