College Campus Safety: Community, Not Force

When you’re searching for a college to attend, college crime statistics are probably the last thing you’ll check – if you check at all. There are so many other things to take into account than college campus safety – cost, reputation, and value, degree offerings, return on investment, whether to go on-campus or online – that safety seems low on the list of priorities. As well it should be: college students have a right to live without fear of violent crime and sexual assault. But if you’re concerned about the colleges with the highest crime rates, and looking for the safest college campuses, there are some facts you need to know.

College Crime Statistics: The Colleges with Highest Crime Rates, and the Lowest

The Virginia Tech massacre – the deadliest mass shooting ever committed on a college campus, with 32 people killed – created a lingering fear that college campuses are too open, too vulnerable. But despite the fears that mass shootings and acts of domestic terror have created on college campuses in the past decade, college crime statistics show that college campuses remain one of the safest public places in the US. Since 2007, 122 people have been killed by guns on a college campus. Compare that to more than 14,000 killings in 2016 alone, and it’s clear that college campuses are quite safe, in terms of violent crime.

A quick survey of Niche’s Safest College Campuses in America show some important trends in college campus safety. College crime statistics show that nearly every college ranked highest for safety – that is, a low rate of violent crime, as well as drug and alcohol abuse – is small in population, and located in a rural or suburban area – that is, areas typically lower in crime already. Large, urban or semi-urban universities, in turn, are the most dangerous, according to a ranking by WiscNews – giants like UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

It’s a trend that is just as true on college campuses as in the world at large; the more people are concentrated in an area, the higher the crime rate. Small, more isolated populations are safer. Does that mean that, for the sake of college campus safety, we should make every college small? Of course not. What it means is that every college, no matter how large, needs to think small – that is, think like a community.

The Safest College Campuses – Proactive, Not Reactive

What those college crime statistics tell us is that the key to college campus safety isn’t force, but community. The safest college campuses aren’t the ones with the biggest police presence or the most armed students (currently, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Texas, and Utah allow concealed guns on college campuses by law.) In fact, there is no known correlation between students carrying guns and college campus safety. Instead, the safest college campuses are the ones with the strongest community involvement. That means that students police themselves, in essence, protecting each other, watching for suspicious activity, and creating an informal network of awareness.

When it comes to sexual assault, community is even more important. Women in college have a higher risk of rape than women in general (according to RAINN statistics), though slightly less than 18-24 year old women in general. According to a Washington Post survey, 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in college. But sexual assault is a different kind of crime than murder or assault in one important respect – a frightening number of sexual assaults go unreported. No homicide, much less a mass shooting, can go under the radar, but thousands of rape victims never make their assault known.

The key to college campus safety, with respect to sexual assault, is a campus-wide community of accountability. When student are empowered to bring their assault forward, rapists are punished. When students hold each other accountable, campus rapes are prevented. As the Value Colleges ranking of the Top 25 Affirmative Consent Schools demonstrates, having a campus infrastructure of dedicated support centers and a community practice of awareness and accountability makes every student safer from sexual assault.

College campus safety isn’t just a job for the campus police – it’s a job for every student, faculty member, and administrator.