As a young girl, Dr. Karen Falconer Al-Hindi often eluded the confines of her diminutive house to roam the tree-lined streets and dense woods of her Michigan neighborhood. Born in Ann Arbor, Falconer Al-Hindi recalls her home as small compared to today’s standards, making the outdoors a place to play and explore with her two younger siblings. As the oldest child, and a girl, many family responsibilities fell to Falconer Al-Hindi, and she found she “could avoid the work by escaping to bike or play in the neighborhood and beyond.” After her father completed his doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, he accepted a position as associate dean at Muskegon Community College some two hours away. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Muskegon provided Falconer Al-Hindi a fresh venue for exploration and inquest.
Falconer Al-Hindi’s parents divorced when she was nine, and she moved with her mother and two siblings to “Florida’s redneck Riviera” where her maternal grandparents had a second home. Shortly after, they moved to Austin, Texas when her mother enrolled in a doctoral program in speech pathology at the University of Texas. Because her mother was a full-time student, Falconer Al-Hindi’s grandmother, Dodie, spent four to six months of each year living with them in Austin. Falconer Al-Hindi was especially close with Dodie. As first-born girls, they shared a special bond; Falconer Al-Hindi believes her grandmother understood her and “knew her in ways that [her] mother did not.” Recognizing the additional duties heaped on her granddaughter because of birth order’s influence, Dodie offset them when opportunity allowed. Since Falconer Al-Hindi’s younger brother and sister were so close in age, she bore the burden of entertaining them throughout the summer months. At Dodie’s insistence, Falconer Al-Hindi joined her cousins as they basked in the sun from atop the neighbor’s carport while reading and listening to music. Dodie even supplied her granddaughter with a box of old magazines for her to flip through. Falconer Al-Hindi cherished this time to herself, and it seems her grandmother knew just when she needed it. The simplicity of her grandmother’s thoughtfulness reflects her nature well, insists Falconer Al-Hindi. Describing Dodie as “competent and courageous,” Falconer Al-Hindi likes to think that her grandmother’s “can-do, make-do, have-fun attitude” has influenced her greatly.
After earning her Ph.D. in speech pathology, Falconer Al-Hindi’s mother accepted a teaching position at Kearney State College (now the University of Nebraska at Kearney), and the family soon settled into “the good life” in Kearney, Nebraska. Falconer Al-Hindi began high school there and was not overly enamored with the small town atmosphere. Although she was offered a scholarship at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), Falconer Al-Hindi missed the large town ambience she grew accustomed to in Austin, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL). She completed her undergraduate degree in geography with a minor in English and interned with both the Nebraska Water Conservation Council and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Falconer Al-Hindi’s advisors urged her to leave Nebraska to gain experience beyond the Midwest. She applied to several graduate schools and eventually chose to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) for a graduate program in geography.
During graduate school, Falconer Al-Hindi became absorbed in women’s studies and feminist issues. At the urging of a friend, Falconer Al-Hindi joined the campus group, “The Women’s Forum,” whose yearly project was a consciousness-raising “Take Back the Night” march, a rally where participants speak out against sexual violence toward women (“History”). After the march, Falconer Al-Hindi began to wonder how much the fear of sexual assault by a stranger influenced undergraduate women’s travel and activity decisions on campus. At the same time, Falconer Al-Hindi struggled to complete a research proposal for a research methods seminar. The medical geography topic she researched interested her only a little, and she found herself drifting from her inquiry while in the library. “The books I was supposed to be reading for my proposal and the books on sexual assault and women’s fear were