More than 16, 500 violent assaults were reported on American college campuses over only two years, according to the Department of Education. Both the government and university administrations have been slow to implement new regulations, or to take any definitive measures to ensure student safety. And yet, while safety should be the most basic expectation of any learning environment, it is often ignored by students among the myriad expectations concerning college, dismissed as unsolvable — as an unfortunate problem not worthy of attention.
“There’s not much you can do…Violence is based [on] human choices, and [the ways to prevent it are] limited,” said Sierra Canyon senior Ryan de Caussin.
While this may be true, potential exists for improvement. The problem is not the lack of possibilities, but a lack of people willing to push for change. Several measures have been suggested, including stricter penalties for students found to have committed a violent act, increased gun control on college campuses, efforts to improve tolerance and lessen racial or ethnic tensions on campus, and the ban of drug and alcohol use in student housing.
Under the 1990 Clery Act, universities must annually compile and publicly display a report, detailing crime on campus in the past three years. Universities must also maintain a public list of each crime on campus, and reveal crime statistics for specific areas on or near campus and at university facilities off-campus. This law is an important step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
University administrations have introduced several measures, including initiatives to increase awareness, encouraging bystander intervention, reporting by victims, and providing basic safety tips and defense courses.
However, these methods largely focus on encouraging student action to prevent campus violence. While this is beneficial and certainly necessary, college administrations need to take direct action through passing regulations. Since a university is a place of education, meant to be an enriching environment, administrations have the duty to make it as safe as possible.
In addition to dissuading students from committing violent acts, concrete regulations will make it easier for universities to take action after the fact in sexual assault cases, by helping alleviate the serious problem of underreporting. According to a study reported in The Huffington Post, 68 percent of sexual assaults over five years were not reported. With universities paying more attention and dedicating more resources to the problem, more sexual assault survivors will be induced to come forward, as they will believe that they will be paid attention to and that sufficient action will be taken.
Another factor must thrust itself into the effort, one with major ability to help – national and state governments. To date, little legislation exists that works to prevent violence specifically on college campuses. Recently, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden have been major supporters of the “It’s On Us” campaign, an initiative to encourage bystander intervention to prevent sexual assault.
However, all these campaigns to encourage violence prevention by individuals are insufficient by themselves, and must be supported by definitive regulations on the part of both government and university administrations. Violence prevention by individuals does not successfully happen consistently, and it is irrational to rely so much on whoever happens to be present at the scene. After all, one cannot predict how successful these individuals will be, while a regulation creates a defined protocol that will always be employed, and that is meant to lead to optimum success.
With the inaction of both universities and government, it is important for students to be informed, and to encourage lawmakers and university administrators to take decisive measures. Students are the people most affected by campus violence, and they have the most potential to cause change. However, student activism requires concern about the issue, and this does not appear to be present in those thinking about and applying to colleges.
“I’m not worried about it, but I feel like you’re never really worried about it until it happens to you,” said senior Alexa Wasserman about the possibility of campus violence. But, when asked how much campus safety will affect her college choices, she said, “Not at all, probably.”
Currently, the government and university administrations are focused on telling individuals to take action. Instead, it should be the reverse.