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Campus Security Challenges Colleges

Spurred by incidents of violence, administrators and state legislatures are responding to demands for greater safety. UNIVERSITY LIFE

By David Christian SmithSpecial to the Christian Science Monitor / January 8, 1990


ALTHOUGH the parking structure is only 200 yards from her office, Julie Yerick, an administrative employee at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), refuses to walk to her car alone after dark. ``I use the campus escort service whenever I work late,'' says Ms. Yerick. ``If I know that a woman will be walking to her car by herself, I always offer to call an escort for her,'' she says. ``A lot of people are just unaware.''

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Yerick's concern for her personal safety on campus is not unique. At most American colleges and universities, preventing crime and violence continues to be a major problem. According to Jonathan Brown, vice president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), campuses are not immune to society's worst elements. ``Campuses are great big public nuisances,'' he says. They are, he adds, ``an attractive area for people to converge upon,'' drawing not only academics, but less desirable influences as well.

Some recent incidents underline the problem:

The 1985 rape of a young woman while she was studying inside the main library at UCLA.

The 1986 rape and murder of Jeanne Clery, then a student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., in her dormitory room.

Six reported rapes in the first two months of classes at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., last fall.

According to a 1989 California legislative report, one of four students was a victim of crime at American colleges in 1988. This figure mirrors the rate for the whole United States population. As public awareness of the problem increases, student and parent activist groups, campus administrators, and even state legislators are taking action.

Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, and Louisiana have passed legislation requiring both public and private colleges and universities within these states to provide records of any criminal activity on campus to the public. The first bill was passed in Pennsylvania in May 1988, primarily due to the lobbying efforts of Constance and Howard Clery following their daughter Jeanne's murder at Lehigh University.

``If I had been aware, I would definitely have changed my decision'' to send Jeanne to Lehigh, says Mrs. Clery. Supporters claim legislation requiring campuses to disclose their security statistics will force them to invest more in providing a safe environment on campus as well as allowing parents and students to make informed decisions when choosing a school.

Security on Campus, an organization started by Mrs. Clery, has been promoting this legislation throughout the country. Initially, she says, her aim was ``to get out some kind of guide that would show security, or lack thereof.'' But when attempts to gather information through questionnaires mailed to campuses across the country proved futile, Clery appealed to Pennsylvania lawmakers. ``The only way to improve security is to go the legislative route,'' she says.

But not everyone agrees.

A similar bill in California, which was passed unanimously by the Senate and by a vote of 65 to 5 in the House, was recently vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian. The governor, a former attorney general for California, told the legislators, ``While I am supportive of the intent of this bill, I am concerned that it would be too costly.''