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College and University Crime and Student Safety: What Every Parent Should Know

Each summer most parents of college-bound students attend one or more college/university orientations where higher education institution officials showcase their broad selection of academic programs, highlight the prestigious scholarly awards earned by former students, take parents on tours of some of the prestigious athletic facilities, walk-throughs of attractive residence halls and/or apartments, boast of the recreational amenities and usually assure parents of the security measures provided to make a safe campus community for their son or daughter. Parents have probably given all of the usual lectures to their son or daughter about being careful, attending classes regularly, and to call home regularly to keep Mom and Dad satisfied that all is well.

Wherever a student chooses to attend a post-secondary education institution, especially away from their hometown, he/she will have freedoms they have never experienced. They will decide when they attend classes, when and where they go “out” with friends, when to go to bed, when or if they will study for classes and exams, if they will attend parties, if and how much alcohol they will consume and how much of Mom’s and Dad’s advice they take.

Higher education has proliferated since the 1950’s at a rate which has often out-paced the ability of institutions to provide for all contingencies to include crime. Prior to the end of World War II with federal legislation paying for millions of veterans to attend college, these institutions were relatively small tranquil campuses sometimes referred to as “ivy-covered halls of academia” where students considered themselves immune from crime, violence and other personal threats. That changed along with the political and social unrest in our nation during the 1960’s. Some campuses became fertile cultures for radical movements. The average age of college students rose with the influx of veterans. University administrations began to loosen the strict check in and check out times for residence hall students. Eventually, some institutions abandoned these restricted hours. Many campuses became more party oriented along with a significant increase in alcohol consumption, binge drinking, recreational drugs, casual sexual encounters, out-of-control behavior, and violence.

Recent media coverage has revealed what is believed to be another party and alcohol-related tragedy. A second-year student at the University of Virginia, Hannah Elizabeth Graham disappeared in the early morning hours of September 13. Hannah may have walked to the private residence which was near the campus of the University of Virginia. As this goes to print it will be nearing two weeks since she has been seen.

Hannah Graham’s story is all too familiar. No college or university nor any student is immune from the negative impacts of excessive indulging of alcohol. No college or university is immune from violence, especially date rape and gun violence. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education reveal that sex crimes on our nation’s college and university campuses increased by 51% from 2001 to 2011. According to the Alabama Criminal Justice and Information Center (ACJIC) in 2013 there were 12 rapes reported at the 26 colleges and universities which submit crime data. It should be noted that crime statistics at two of Alabama’s largest universities, Auburn University and UAB, are not reported by those institutions to the ACJIC but through the local municipalities. However, the passage by Congress of a federal law known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure Act of 1987 requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education. This law was prompted by the parents of Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh College student raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986.

Alabama A & M in Montgomery is one of the nation’s top schools for violent crime. In a report done by the Birmingham News in 2012, between 2005 and 2010 Alabama A & M experienced 63 aggravated assaults, 29 robberies, and 16 sexual assaults. On June 9, 2012 the fatal shooting of three Auburn University students took place at an off-campus party.

Parents of all college and university students should be aware that their children cannot be guaranteed to be kept safe and free from crimes of violence. Most institutions have initiated measures to better secure their campuses. Yet, safety is a shared responsibility. Students should always be accompanied by one or more other students particularly when out at night whether on or off campus. Never drink to excess, have a competent designated non-drinker to help keep one another from over-indulging. Make wise choices on where, when and what activities are attended. Simply by passing up a party where there is a pattern of binge drinking, unwanted sexual behavior and any kind of violence is among considerations for today’s college students.


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