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Campus Violence: Time to Stand Up

Thursday, May 06, 2010

 

I live in fear. The fear that the next time I turn on CNN and see the picture of a murdered college student, that it will be one of mine. Because unlike most parents who have one or two kids in college, I have roughly 200. As a private college admissions advisor, I send several dozen students off to college each year. Before they go, I talk to them about campus safety, how to be aware of their surroundings, not taking risks, and the dangers of alcohol-fueled situations. I post safety tips to my Facebook business page while they are away at school, reminding them to be careful. It is not enough.

The murder of college students on and off-campus continues to fill the news. This week, 22 year old UVA LaCrosse star, Yeardley Love, was allegedly beaten to death by her former boyfriend George Huguely (also a LaCrosse player at UVA) after he broke down the door to her off-campus apartment. In 2009, the murder of a Yale grad student eclipsed the story of how a senior at Gettysburg College murdered his ex-girlfriend. And in 2007, we all watched in horror as the Virginia Tech massacre unfolded.

It would seem that most campus murders stem from two primary sources: mental illness and alcohol abuse (some are likely a combination of both). Many are perpetrated by men against women, but not all, as we learned with the PC beating last week. So the question becomes, what are we as a society, and what are colleges as institutions of higher learning, doing to reduce violence on campus? From 2005 to 2008, there were more than 200 murders reported on campuses across the U.S. However, these statistics are often criticized because it is rumored that many colleges underreport crime, and that off-campus crime against students falls between the cracks. Let’s face it, no college wants to be known as a violent place. It’s not good for business.

Parents, students, alumni and concerned citizens need to demand that colleges bring the issue of violence (on and off campus) into a mainstream discussion on what can be done. At the Institute for Non-Violence in Providence, the walls are covered with the pictures of young people murdered on the streets of our city, along with the dates of their birth and death. It is a haunting reminder of why we all volunteer or work there. Perhaps colleges need to start a wall of victims to remind students and administrators of the gravity of the issue, instead of trying to diminish the presence of violence because it is “bad press”.

Systems to identify and report concerns about mental illness and binge drinking need to be put in place. Task forces of students, administrators and local community residents need to be formed. Sports coaches, fraternities, sororities and other campus groups need to lead the revolution by setting high standards for conduct and reducing the acceptance of binge drinking. Colleges need to make IN-DEPTH safety courses part of the required orientation. Students need to understand the signs that they may be in danger and how to sound the alarm for help. Yeardley Love’s murder did have warning signs. Huguely reportedly threatened Yeardley in the days before her murder, and he threatened a female police officer in the past. We need a system in place that encourages women like Yeardley to report threats, and local police to report off-campus student incidents to campus administrators. Because the reality is that if we all don’t get vocal and take action on this issue of violence against college students, the next time the phone rings, it could be your son or daughter who was the victim.

 

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC based in Providence.

 

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