Campus safety remains high, never perfect

Scott Gordon

When Northwestern students started getting robbed and beaten on a regular basis last year, my fellow police reporters and I had a field day. The news was scary and the stories almost always occupied a prominent place on The Daily’s front page. Each week, we racked up more and more clips that would at least look impressive when attached to future job applications.

By October a steady string of mostly unrelated attacks on and near campus caused students, student groups, city and university officials and even The Daily’s editorial staff to focus almost feverishly on matters of safety and security. At the time, this all seemed highly unusual — even spokesmen for Evanston Police Department and University Police saw the trend as a rare aberration. A dozen attacks later, the trend has become pretty mundane. Do we really need to be so concerned about all this?

While reporting a story on racial profiling on campus last Fall Quarter, assistant campus editor Robert Samuels performed an experiment that revealed students were getting carried away with paranoia in the wake of the first few attacks.

Samuels, who is black, decided to do some reporting in the Sorority Quads while wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a skullcap. Many of the attackers were described as wearing hooded sweatshirts, and Robert’s outfit was enough to frighten the five people he talked to while wearing it.

“When I said ‘excuse me,’ they sort of jumped back and started shaking,” Samuels told me. And even after he told them he was a reporter, “they stood about five, 10 feet away.” Samuels, who admitted to being among the “most unintimidating men on campus,” said his interview subjects usually admitted they thought he was out to mug them.

The attacks have continued despite university and city efforts to improve lighting and security patrols in the campus area. This indicates that we might have to accept that the occasional violent crime will happen — it’s a part of life we probably can get used to.

Even as robberies continue to occur, they occur less frequently than they did last Fall Quarter — which is a credit to university and city police. We could continue to complain and blame local authorities when students are robbed at knifepoint or gunpoint, but you cannot entirely deter crimes when people have reasons to commit them.

I’m not even taking a grouchy, “tough-luck” tone in suggesting that we react to these crimes with a little less shock. It makes sense that students get robbed on and near campus once you consider a few factors: This campus is not isolated and it’s easily accessible.

Not all neighborhoods in Evanston are as wealthy and “safe” as the one surrounding the campus — most nights someone in south Evanston calls the police about hearing shots fired. It’s not a city that eats people alive, but it has its criminal element, and it’s closer to campus than students understand.

If you can count on finding students who carry money and cellular phones while walking along dark streets at night, it’s worth the walk, or even an El ride from Chicago.

Although being robbed is a frightening experience, the current trend of attacks on students has been kept from developing into a major crime problem. This is not a string of killings or severe attacks, and it’s relatively under control.

If we look out for ourselves, and if Evanston and UP continue to pay adequate attention to security, we should be able to live with this problem.

Deputy city editor Scott Gordon is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]