Op-ed: Off-campus student safety is not a priority

Daniel Pefley | Class of 2019

With the recent string of armed robberies occurring near Washington University’s Danforth Campus, I started to ask myself why they were happening. The problem appears to be two-fold. First, students are known (and legally required) to be unarmed when they are on campus. Second, students have large amounts of expensive electronics that they have to carry back and forth with them to campus.

Students and faculty being unarmed on campus is the right decision. While I support Americans’ right to bear arms, the university setting is not conducive to firearms due mostly to the widespread use of alcohol, academic pressure and ultimately an entirely inadequate University response to growing mental health issues. However, this leads even the least cunning of criminals to recognize the easy pickings that are the exhausted and often distracted students bumbling home to their apartments off campus. In regard to electronics, students and faculty are and will be required to carry them to campus regardless of the risk. This is an unfortunate truth and one that is hard to skirt.

Students will need to take greater responsibility in their own personal safety moving forward, whether that is in finding ways other than walking to get home late at night or ensuring they are alert and not distracted by phones or music. This student responsibility is something that many would say is “common sense,” yet it is not practiced and there is little to no training or information given regarding best practices for personal safety off campus. This should be
required to be covered early on in students’ tenure at the University to ensure that even when walking to the Delmar Loop for dinner, students have the tools and knowledge available to them to help deal with or potentially avoid dangerous situations.

The solution here is difficult to pin down to a single response, yet who can argue with an increased security presence off campus? I certainly feel safe on campus, but off campus it feels as though there is little responsibility taken by Wash. U. or the surrounding jurisdictions to patrol and secure off-campus
student housing. When someone is robbed, we (sometimes) receive a text message or email telling us that a robbery has occurred, and while the information is sometimes useful, I feel more can be done. At the University with the 16th largest endowment according to the National Center for Education Statistics, I feel Wash. U. could be doing more to hire an increased number of Washington University Police Department officers and/or security personnel to improve the security presence in the neighborhoods surrounding the Danforth Campus.

The University likes to talk about how great of a community it fosters, and is buying up property on all sides of it. Students and faculty live in these properties, but as the University has grown in population and geographic area, students and faculty have moved further and further out. With this growth, the University needs to expand its efforts to maintain security in these areas and give the community the confidence that the behemoth we pay upward of $65,000 each year cares about our safety enough to do more than just tell us that we’ve been robbed.