On the east side of Stanford University's campus, tucked between several fraternity houses and student residences, is a short, 0.1-mile dirt path that students have dubbed the "Scary Path."
The path has gained notoriety with students for both its physical lack of safety -- it's rocky, uneven, unpaved and not lit at night -- and concern that, as a frequently used route to parties and social events late at night, it's a likely place for sexual assault to occur.
In January, former Stanford all-star swimmer Brock Turner was found on top of an unconscious woman about 0.15 miles from the path, between the Kappa Alpha (KA) fraternity house, where Turner and the woman had attended a party earlier, and Jerry House, another student residence.
One Stanford sophomore has made it her mission to make the Scary Path safer for students, pushing the university administration to either pave and light it or consider alternatives. Alexis Kallen has met with staff from various university departments, and officials say her concerns are under review.
But as the new school year gets underway, she is characterizing the administration's response as slow and unwilling.
Kallen said her motivation for this project is based in her own fears while walking along the path and hundreds of student complaints that poured into the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) during the last school year. Kallen, a political science major with an emphasis on international relations and a minor in business and gender studies, serves on the ASSU executive cabinet.
Students describe the path as "dangerous" and "spooky." Female students, in particular, avoid walking on the path alone. Lauryn Isford, a former resident assistant for an undergraduate student house known as 680 Lomita, told Kallen in an interview that lighting the path is essential for student safety.
"I am never comfortable walking by myself on Scary Path at night, and I either make my male friends escort me or I call friends until someone with a car is available to pick me up on the other end," Isford told Kallen. "I will not let any of my friends or residents walk alone on Scary Path. ... I am also surprised that there is not already lighting in place given the campus' current climate and conversation around sexual assault and related issues."
Eileen Mariano, a resident of the Enchanted Broccoli Forest (EBF) co-operative, told Kallen in an interview that she uses the route multiple times a week to get to fraternities and other houses located on what's known as the Row.
"I find myself constantly checking over my shoulder, shining my phone's flashlight into the bushes, and nervously calculating what I would do if somebody approached me," she said. "Representing one of hundreds of students who walk that path at night to campus social hubs, I feel strongly that lighting scary path would transform a dangerous journey into a much safer one."
Students use the path as a shortcut: An alternative paved and lit route is 0.6 miles long.
This 0.5-mile difference is key to students coming home after a long night of studying at the library or attending a party, Kallen said.
Scary Path extends from a halfway point on a paved path that runs from KA to EBF down to a basketball court located in the back of 680 Lomita. Other residences in the surrounding area include the Kappa Sigma and Theta Delta Chi fraternities, Jerry House and Narnia, a self-operative house. About 388 students live in the area, according to Kallen.
Kallen first brought the path to Vice Provost Greg Boardman's attention in May. Since then, she and other students have continued to meet with representatives from departments that would be involved in any changes made to the path, including Campus Planning, Land Use and Environmental Planning, Risk Management and Public Safety. She also walked the path four times with different administrators.
Bill Larson, public information officer for the Department of Public Safety, described the path as "unauthorized" and "makeshift." He noted that it is less than 150 yards from an already well-lit and paved path and that a principle of the university's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is "to place paths in areas where there is visibility and to encourage the use of these routes."
"The unauthorized footpath is not readily visible from the street nor the residences in the area, which is one reason it has not been designated as an official university pathway," he added.
The path slightly curves around two large trees that obscure the view of the path.
Public Safety officers currently do not patrol the route by foot but will park their cars on a hill above the route and monitor it from there, Kallen said she was told by the Department Public Safety.
Installing lights could be complicated: The path is unaligned with the university's light grids, so lighting would have to be connected to the back of 680 Lomita, Kallen said.
Administrators have also raised environmental concerns about changing the path because it crosses through an open-space area that is a breeding area for an endangered species, the tiger salamander. The area is thus subject to state and federal protections, Larson said, and any proposed improvements in the area would require state and federal approval.
To those people who say that no sexual assaults have ever been reported to have occurred on the path, Kallen noted that more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Forty-three percent of rapes also occur between 6 p.m. and midnight, and approximately four out of five rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Stanford does run a transportation service, 5-SURE (Students United for Risk Elimination), that offers free rides on campus seven days a week, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. But Kallen and other students have said that they have waited for 5-SURE rides for up to an hour. The service is also not offered during finals week, takes its last calls at 1:45 a.m. and only allows students free use of the service three times per quarter.
Stanford is not alone in having a "scary path." A set of wooden steps that ran between the main campus and student apartments at the University of California, Los Angeles, was long known as the "Rape Trail," with low lighting and a large amount of shrubbery on both sides of the steps. It, too, was frequently used by students as a shortcut. In January 2012, a female student was sexually assaulted at the top of the steps late at night. By March, the university announced its decision to demolish the steps and replace them with landscaping and an irrigation system, citing safety concerns, according to student newspaper the Daily Bruin.
At the University of Connecticut, student activism led to the paving, lighting, addition of emergency phones and security cameras at the campus' own "rape trail," which was previously similarly isolated, surrounded by shrubbery and unpaved.
"Safety is a high priority for the university," Larson told the Weekly. The administration is reviewing Kallen's proposal to pave and light the path and also considering other possibilities, such as building an alternative route, he said.
Uncertain of whether the administration will act, Kallen continues to communicate a sense of urgency about safety on the Scary Path.
"I've had a lot of people say, 'Why do you care about this?' especially since it's so short and it's not a crazy big deal," Kallen said, "but I think it makes a difference, and maybe (could) prevent that one extra thing from happening. Why not take that one extra step?"
Following Thursday's release of the university's long-awaited campus climate survey, which found one-third of undergraduate women have been sexually assaulted during their time at Stanford, Kallen called lighting Scary Path "the most tangible way that Stanford University can reassert their commitment to stopping campus sexual assault."
To watch a video of Alexis Kallen talking about "Scary Path" and her mission to make the path safer for students, visit the Weekly's YouTube channel.
The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.