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The Sordid Nickname of the River Trail Behind MSU Halls

Students and civilians alike enjoy walking down the River Trail along the Red Cedar River in East Lansing…in particular, through the east to west campuses of MSU.

However, a portion of the walk that takes people behind Holmes, McDonel & Shaw Halls has gained notoriety thanks to it’s nickname, “The Rape Trail.” To the best of the knowledge of the staff of Michigan State University, no student has ever been sexually assaulted on that trail portion. In fact, they say it’s just as safe as any other part of the campus.

So why the nickname?

Probably due to the thick woods, dark shadows and below-par lighting that makes any lone walker a bit nervous – male OR female. The nickname has stuck to that trail throughout MSU’s history and nobody knows for sure how it started…but even though MSU leaders would like to squelch that name once and for all, it will probably stay for a good long while, as it seems to add some kind of air of mystery to the campus.

The trail is used by many students throughout the day to get to classes but many of those same ones avoid it at night. Someone may come across some beligerant drunken students on that trail at night, which can lead to misspoken words, idle threats and just plain stupidity…but it’s enough to scare anyone – especially female – into not wanting to go down that trail alone at night.

Upon investigation, there seems to have been only one rape reported there, going way back to 1970…and a sexual assault along the River Trail was reported to have happened in 2008…but the moniker “Rape Trail” had been around LONG before those two incidents.

According to, community director of Holmes Hall Nick Ballard stated “It’s a very problematic term. I don’t want to perpetuate the term. I don’t want to bring up the notion of ‘the rape trail’ anymore.”  And director of communications for the Residential and Hospitality Services at MSU, Kat Cooper, made the comment “I do think it is a harmful perpetuation of a stereotype.The River Trail is a wonderful natural resource for the students and it is sad it’s called that.”

So depending how you look at the situation, the nickname can either be an enduring – but unseemly – part of MSU history or just a big pain in the butt….but thanks to rumors and urban legends, it ain’t likely to go away anytime soon.

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