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See No Evil, Fear No Evil

News & Features | October 10, 2010

Almost weekly, Tufts students are emailed campus safety announcements from TUPD, usually detailing students’ and residents’ run-ins with area burglars. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, an artistic rendering is included. Whether or not these updates are sources of laughter or legitimate concern may depend on the student, but we’ve always accepted them as staples of every day life at Tufts. However, with the recent speculations of Tufts’ campus safety in the news, one can’t help but wonder if Tufts’ small security breaches point to a much larger safety issue on campus.

            Walking around Tufts University, one doesn’t experience any unusual feelings of danger or insecurity. Yet, as almost everyone on campus has heard, the online news source, The Daily Beast has ranked Tufts the most dangerous college campus in America this year.

             “We pored over the three most recent calendar years of campus security and crime data (2006-2008) compiled by the U.S. Department of Education as well as the FBI and the Secret Service, in conjunction with the Clery Act, the federal mandate requiring all schools that receive federal funding to disclose crime information annually,” says The Daily Beast website. One can’t help but be puzzled by the site’s methodology while walking around a seemingly safe campus packed with Frisbee players, Hillel goers and back-pack laden students on the way to the library.

            The question of methodology is partially clarified by a later disclaimer on the site, reading, “We also deferred to the [National Center for Education Statistics] in determining what a ‘campus’ is—for example, it groups the two main campuses for Tufts as a single entity, even though they are seven miles apart (Tufts’ Boston campus is the reason it ranked so poorly).” This addition brings an important question: if the two campuses were grouped together, how does this ranking impact those students on the Medford/Somerville campus, who quite possibly have no interaction with the Boston campus in Chinatown?

The ranking was performed among 458 universities nation-wide that met various qualifications including student body size and the presence of residential facilities. Harvard Univeristy is ranked third on the list (and MIT is at 14th), making the Somerville/Cambridge area appear to be the most dangerous place to attend school in America. Considering the notoriously dangerous locations of some universities on the list (such as the University of Baltimore), it is unbelievable that Tufts and other nearby schools topped the chart.

Tufts freshman David Sutherland agrees, and says, “My initial reaction [to the ranking] was disbelief. Coming from an area near Hopkins and Virginia Tech, given the events that have happened there, I really didn’t think that Tufts deserved this ranking.” Sutherland went on to say that he didn’t ever feel unsafe at Tufts, so the ranking didn’t really affect him.

Tufts junior Arya Saniee had similar opinions to offer: “Walking home from the library or from a friend’s dorm, I’ve never felt unsafe.” Yet Saniee didn’t have the same feelings about the areas surrounding Tufts as he did about the campus itself. He added, “There is a lot of crime in the surrounding areas of Tufts that are off campus.”

Tufts’ Executive Vice President, Patricia Campbell addressed the issue in a letter to the Tufts Community on September 16th, “We wanted you to know that [The Daily Beast’s] listing is based on flawed methodology and is extremely inaccurate,” she said. “We believe there are several reasons for its gross inaccuracy. First, unlike some Boston area universities, Tufts has reported to the U.S. Department of Education not only incidents that take place on our three campuses but also incidents on adjacent public property that are reported to us by municipal police. This is done so that our community is aware of such incidents and can take proper precautions, but it may create the misperception that our campuses are less safe than they really are.”

            Last year, Emerson College of Boston was ranked most dangerous. How is it that colleges in cities like New Orleans, Baltimore, Atlanta and DC (all nationally ranked within the top 20 most dangerous in America) have evaded the number one spot two years in a row? And were beat out by Boston?

            Campbell seemed to wonder this same question and went on to say that reports in the future would be more specific, and thus would avoid such confusion in safety rankings. Campbell’s letter also attempted to assuage lingering student concerns by detailing many safety enhancements that have been made in the last few years at Tufts, and referencing the accreditation that Tufts University Police Department has received, holding them to the “highest possible professional standards.”  

            In addition to stating his agreement with Patricia Campbell’s letter, TUPD Captain Mark Keith offered students suggestions for maintaining their personal safety on and off campus: “As always, the Department of Public Safety encourages students and staff to always be aware of their surroundings, whether it be on or off campus and use common sense to limit the possibility of becoming a victim,” he said. “Avoid walking alone, stay in well lighted paths and areas, use the campus shuttle or avail yourself of the safety Escort that we offer on all campuses 24/7. Don’t walk or jog while listening to iPods – it limits your ability to stay attentive to your surroundings. Always let Public Safety know if you have any safety concerns.”

Unquestionably, Tufts, like any college campus, is a place where crime exists. Yet it is clear from various authorities and accounts at the university that the extent of this crime does not reflect the results of The Daily Beast‘s survey—students can rest assured that their safety is in good hands while on campus. Or, at the very least, Tuft students, usually known for being bookish and pasty, can revel in their street cred being raised by living on the most “dangerous” campus in America.