When you’re choosing a college, you look at every aspect of the school to make sure that it has everything you want: your Dream School. Most people want nice dorms, cool campus hangouts, a variety of dining options, and of course, beautiful grounds. However, a lot of students, and even their parents, don’t take the safety of the campus into consideration. Maybe your dream school is surrounded by rolling hills in a rural area where nothing big ever happens, or maybe it’s towering above beautiful mansions in an affluent, quiet neighborhood. Maybe it’s in a big city with a high crime rate, or in a bustling small town miles where everyone knows everyone and it’s possible to get anywhere you want to on foot. No matter where your school is located or how well you think you know it, it’s important to make sure you have all the information about it—including what kind of crime happens on campus, how often it happens, how the school responds to it, and what to do if you are a victim. It can be scary or uncomfortable to think about crimes occurring at any school, especially the one you’re going to, but it’s necessary. The family of Jeanne Clery have dedicated their lives to convincing people of this.
The Jeanne Clery Act was created after Jeanne, a freshman at Lehigh University, was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986. Jeanne’s parents felt that lax safety standards and under-reporting of on-campus crimes contributed to Jeanne’s death, so they lobbied Congress to create the Clery Act—which requires schools to publish their security policies, publish a crime report each year, and have a warning system in place to alert students to dangers on campus. Schools who are not in compliance with the Clery Act can be fined by the federal government, and their administration may even face termination of employment. The Clery Act not only demands that schools give parents of college students the answers they deserve, but it helps the parents know which important questions to ask in the first place.
The Clery Act contains numbers for crimes such as robbery and motor vehicle theft, but the one that is most common, and one that Jeanne’s parents are most passionate about preventing, is sexual assault. Sexual assault on college campuses has been described as an “epidemic.” It is estimated that one in four women of college age will be victims of sexual assault, and statistics show that the rate of assault on campuses around the country is much higher than the rate for the average population in a normal residential area. Some schools, at risk of violating the Clery Act, may choose to downplay or under-report on-campus assaults because they don’t want bad publicity, which is why it’s so important for parents and students to do some thorough investigation before committing to a college.
If you are a parent researching schools with your child, be sure to view the crime report for each school, and look at their campus security organization’s crime policies. You can also look for organizations on campus such as counseling services or sexual assault prevention teams, and ask someone who works for those organizations to give you an overview of the services they provide and their personal assessment of the campus safety measures. If a crime report is not offered in a student handbook or orientation pamphlet, it can be found online at ope.ed.gov/security/ (the U.S. Office of Postsecondary Education’s website). You are entitled to receive all of the information and answers that you ask for. There is more to a school than its dining halls, newly constructed dorms, and historical classroom buildings—knowledge is power, so make sure you know your facts as well as you know your campus.