Ordinarily, the talk among Georgetown University students this time of year, one week before spring break, would be about midterms and overdue term papers. But yesterday, the subject was different: fear.
In the aftermath of the slaying of a Georetown woman student Saturday and the assault Sunday night on another coed who, apparently coincidentally, lived in the same dormitory, women students say now that they are afraid to be alone at night.
"Students are very concerned, very tense around here and everyone is a little scared," said Tracy Hughes, vice president of the Georgetown University student government. "We're not used to this kind of thing around here," she said.
They gathered in front of the modern John Mark Lauinger Memorial Library, in the basement of the old Gothic Healy administration building and along the paths and walkways of this old school where 3,000 students live, work and, ordinarily, enjoy the student life. But not sicnce the slaying Saturday of 18-yearold freshman Maureen McGrath.
McGrath was stabbed and strangled Saturday afternoon while she worked alone at the Regent Place boutique at 1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW, only blocks from the Georgetown campus.
But it was the incident Sunday night, in which a coed who lived in McGrath's dorm was accosted in the shower by a knife-wielding man that brought fear onto the campus.
This student was not hurt, however, when her assailant apparently became confused and fled.
"The night the attack [in the shower] occurred, people were hysterical, and some people feel the terror right now," said Joe Saracino, a pledge of Alpha Phi Omega, a campus service fraternity that organized immediately to provide late-night escort service for women.
"People are afraid to go alone to get their laundry in the basement of dorms, they scream when they hear strange sounds outside at night," he said.
A coed who lives on the same floor in Harbin Hall, where the incident occurred, said that "the whole floor cleared out -- I stayed with friends in another dorm and other people found other places to stay."
"I'm still nervous. and almost all the women have left the floor," said the freshman, who asked not to be identified.
"There are signs around campus saying don't walk out alone," said Michael Williams, another student, who discussed the mood on campus with coed Bibi Rashad at the black students house just off campus. "People are saying that they just want to get the hell out of here and leave early for spring break."
Sophmore Michelle McCarthy said, "Right now the incident is on the tip of everybody's tongue."
Sunday night and yesterday, students held impromptu meetings in dormitories, classrooms and fraternity quarters to discuss what they could do to improve security on campus during a time when many students are out alone at night to visit the library or other places to study for exams.
Many students, however, criticized the campus security police and said security at the campus needs to be upgraded. In most dormitories, one guard is on duty until about midnight, they said. Thereafter, security is provided by locked doors that only a special marked student ID card inserted into a lock will open.
William Stott, dean of student affairs, told a reporter yesterday that "in general, we are satisfied with the security here," and that campus officials would rather not institute "absolute security because it would hinder the freedom that students have here."
Before Sunday night's incident, Stott said, a guard was stationed at the main entrance of Harbin Hall, but left at midnight as scheduled and the card system was in effect.
No one knows how the assailant entered Harbin and no one saw the man, who was dressed in jeans and a yellow shirt, leave the building, police said. Students, however, said they may be to blame because often they will let others they presume to be students into the building by means of any of a number of fire exits.
Harbin, a nine-story modern brown brick and concrete dormitory, is at the bottom of a hill next to a cemetery in a fairly secluded section of the campus.
Stott said that since the incident, three guards have been assigned to Harbin all night and that the extra security measures, "not taken in the spirit of panic or compensation for incompetence" will continue indefinitely.
Squads of security officers also have been detailed to patrol the campus during hours of darkness.
"As a university, Georgetown is extremely isolated for being in a city," said Sarah Bruder. "We live in a city where there is a lot of crime and poverty, and many students here are not aware of that.The (incidents here) have brought those everyday problems of the city onto the campus. We're in kind of a womb here."