Nearly 4,000 Ramapo students have signed a change.org petition demanding improved on-campus security following an abduction of a student last Thursday in the commuter parking lot.
Alexis Ruhlen, a sophomore nursing major with minors in neuroscience and psychology, said she was in a toxic and controlling relationship for two years. It ended when 22-year-old Pawel Sliwinski, another Ramapo student in his last semester, hid in the back of her Jeep Wrangler to confront her about an earlier disagreement, she said.
“I didn’t check my trunk because I didn’t think I had to, and so when I got into the car I put my backpack down… he jumped out of my trunk,” Ruhlen said in an interview with The Ramapo News. “I opened the door and dove headfirst out, but he grabbed me.
“I had screamed and people were looking at me, but nobody did anything and there weren’t any Public Safety [officers] around,” she said.
Sliwinski forced Ruhlen at knifepoint to drive, she said, adding that he hit her across the face while driving, then had her park at an outlet mall in Woodbury, N.Y. When he exited the vehicle with her cell phone and laptop, Ruhlen said she used the chance to speed away and seek aid at the Woodbury Police Department.
Sliwinski was apprehended not far from the mall and charged in Mahwah with kidnapping, aggravated assault, armed burglary, terroristic threats, possession of a weapon and stalking.
Ruhlen, who received medical attention following the incident, said her parents and close friends have rallied to support her and ease her recovery.
“Having so many people reach out to me just shows me that’s not how I deserve to be treated and that’s not love,“ Ruhlen said.
Over the past week, she has gained support from the college community, including President Cindy Jebb and the Student Government Association (SGA), who each sent out emails at the beginning of this week with condolences and mention of working to improve campus safety.
SGA also passed Senate Bill 2022-1, which calls on the college to add more Emergency Callboxes “Blue Lights” to the parking lots, be transparent in its communication about adding cameras to the parking lots and increase promotion of the “Rave Guardian” personal safety app.
Director of Public Safety Sharon McLaurin and Vice President for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance Nicole Morgan Agard said they are always looking at ways to improve security.
“We have 43 blue lights, including locations in parking lots, residential areas, any areas that have high traffic,” McLaurin said. “There hasn’t been any need to add any new ones because the system has been working fine.”
The blue light emergency callboxes are audited monthly to identify if any are in need of repairs, they said.
“We continue to meet as an administration on a regular basis to see ways that we can improve security, and Director McLaurin recently increased the patrol of our officers,” Agard added. “It’s not just the blue lights. We now have the ‘RAVE Guardian app,’ and we encourage our students to use the app. They can get access to Public Safety right away.”
Agard said the administration hired a consultant at the beginning of the semester to assess potential camera placements around the commuter lot. That assessment is ongoing.
Both staff members said they are open to questions and dedicated to supporting the student body. The change.org petition is now under review, they said.
Any Ramapo student who feels trapped in an unhealthy relationship can reach out to the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) or Title IX for guidance and additional resources, both on- and off-campus.
The college promotes bystander intervention, which can help in situations such as Ruhlen experienced. Counseling services are also available for anyone who may be experiencing difficulties or feeling triggered.
Marie-Danielle Attis, the coordinator of the OVP, encouraged students to attend and participate in programs such as Take Back the Night that “educate on the dangers of staying in an unhealthy relationship, how to support victims/survivors, affirmative consent, revictimization, risk reduction, etc.”
Attis also stated in an email that she and McLaurin are working to increase collaboration between their organizations.
Ruhlen has made speaking out a key part of her recovery, believing that educating others is a step in the right direction toward minimizing future incidents. She said she wants to share that she “never felt guilty [or] that [she] did something to deserve it.” She acknowledges most survivors do feel a level of undeserved shame.
“My biggest hope is that by sharing my story, I’m able to encourage others who are in… any kind of toxic, abusive relationship to get out and to ask for help and to not be embarrassed or ashamed, because for the longest time, I was so embarrassed and I just didn’t want to leave the relationship,” she said.
“Obviously I was also scared, but I definitely could have gotten the help I needed if there wasn’t such stigma around domestic violence and abusive and toxic relationships.”
Photo by Emily Melvin.