What Is Behind the Growth of Violence on College Campuses?

By Siegel, Dorothy | USA TODAY, May 1994 | Go to article overview

What Is Behind the Growth of Violence on College Campuses?


Siegel, Dorothy, USA TODAY


The majority of perpetrators, as well as victims, are likely to have been high on alcohol and/or drugs when the crimes were committed.

AMERICA'S college campuses are not the war zones newspaper and magazine articles would lead the public to believe. Those crimes committed against students get major attention from the media probably because campuses are expected to be serene and safe. What is perhaps most troubling about campus crime is that the majority of the incidents, excluding theft, but including rape and other sexual assaults, are impulsive acts committed by students themselves, according to nationwide studies conducted by Towson State University's Campus Violence Prevention Center. Students are responsible for 80% of campus crime, although rarely with weapons.

It is an uphill battle to ensure student safety. Schools provide escort services, tamper-proof windows, and continually upgraded state-of-the-art exterior lighting and electronic alarm systems. These institutional efforts frequently are undone by the immortal feelings of college-age men and women. That "it can't happen to me" attitude leads to lax security behaviors that literally leave the door open for an outside threat. Universities are challenged to help students develop and keep that awareness, except for the two weeks following an on-campus assault, when caution prevailed.

The same students who sponsor night walks to check the lighting and grounds to increase safety will hold the door open for a stranger entering their residence hall. Despite frequent warnings, students - and even faculty, administrators, and other campus personnel - act less judiciously than they would elsewhere.

The mind-set of the students and probably of most of us is that crime is going to happen at night. Following a daylight abduction at one school, students demanded better lighting and evening patrols. They are loathe to follow the cautions about garages and out-of-the-way places during the day. They have trouble acknowledging, as we all probably do, that current criminal acts require new precautions, more appropriate to what is happening now.

Today, as part of the orientation programs at campuses across the nation, most administrators welcome students with information about crime on campus and ways they better can ensure their own safety. Because The Higher Education Security Act requires schools to report their previous year's crime statistics to the campus, colleges greet many new students and their parents with the previous year's count of violations and wise warnings. They are united in their efforts to command students' attention and enlist them as active partners in prevention. They use theater, video, discussions, posters, and circulars to inform students. Police statistics and reports are disseminated widely.

Despite this, if a stranger is seen entering a building, it is unlikely that any observers will notify the police, even if the potential assailant is dressed strangely and/or behaving oddly. If that stranger attacks someone, the community will demand more protection. A series of seminars will produce good ideas and vigilant behavior for about two weeks, after which much of the more casual behavior about safety reappears.

When students discuss safety, it always is about dangers from outside the campus. Students are both the perpetrators and victims of most campus crime, yet it still is protection from trespassers that motivates most safety programs and is most in demand. It is an arduous and mostly unsuccessful process to convince students that they are more likely to be a victim of crime perpetrated by a member of their class or athletic team than by a stranger. It appears unthinkable that they themselves may become assailants. Although this message is included in many orientation programs for new students, it is nearly impossible to alert them to the potential danger from people they trust simply because they are members of the same community.

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