A few weeks ago in this space, I took a relatively hard look at what we have done culturally to create an atmosphere on college campuses that is contrary to the ideals we have and the overall goal of post-secondary education. I began realizing that the problem goes far beyond anything being done at any specific university anywhere in the United States.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges have been under intense scrutiny recently, first by being named on a list of 55 higher education institutions under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Later, a story published by the New York Times about an on-campus sexual assault only made that spotlight more intense.
However, while the focus is largely on sexual assault — right now — the truth is that college campuses still have this perception of being safe environments, even though many believe crime remains underreported. And that is to say that crime in general is underreported at college campuses, not just sexual assaults.
While combating sexual assault on college campuses obviously need to remain atop the list of things we should improve upon in the United States, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taking a broader approach to making college campuses safer across the board.
As to the idea of being safe on a college campus, there are several things parents, students and even the general population should be thinking about. Moreover, a few questions we should be asking ourselves might be:
• How do we effectively decide if a college campus is safe or not?
• If a college campus isn’t safe, then what is the next step in combating the safety issues at hand?
• Is there quality data out there to effectively indicate levels of safety on a college campus?
The answers to these questions are not simple. In fact, they’re quite complicated especially because we do not have many tools to even marginally measure the relative safety of a college campus. The U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool is actually about the only source anyone has to evaluate college campus safety.
This tool is basically just an amassing of numbers of various crimes on college campuses compared to the total number of students. It breaks down the universities by type and student body size — and if the user would like, various schools can be selected to make comparisons. It’s a great tool for general statistical analysis, but how far does that actually go toward answering the question, “How safe will I, or my children, be on this college campus?”
The truth is that statistics only go so far. For many students or potential students, a decision usually is reached after a visit to the campus. Typically, visits last only a day or two, and they usually are an opportunity for the college to show the prospective student what it wants to show them, no more.
However, when it comes to evaluating safety on a college campus, opinions of students, community members, and even those who simply live close to the school grounds probably would offer a more effective look at how safe an atmosphere the university produces.
Ultimately, though, safety on college campuses — no matter what types of crimes you’re looking at — comes down to making smarter choices and taking a broader look at the culture around us.
Overall, a smarter and more fundamentally human approach should be taken to evaluating the safety on college campuses beyond the numbers. Opinions, the way a college is physically set up, and the overall feeling a campus gives off — when the campus visits aren’t happening — and even a tour of the community as a whole are just a few of the ways we can better evaluate the safety on a college campus.
Josh Durso of Seneca Falls is a writer and editor with more than 20 years in the area. He is constantly evaluating the social, economic and political standards locally and beyond. His “In Focus” columns run every other Tuesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.