Open dialogue needed to improve campus security

By Editorial Board

Two Columbia students became victims in one of five robberies in Grant Park in the span of two weeks on Nov. 22. Just a day earlier, the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway was the scene of a police chase that ended in a crash. 

In the last year, Columbia students have had to confront safety issues on multiple occasions. In fall 2016, a string of laptop thefts in campus buildings had many students looking over their shoulder while trying to work. A shooting at the Jackson Red Line station over the summer was witnessed by two Chronicle employees, as reported Sept. 5 by The Chronicle.

Crime reports on or near campus property were lower in 2016 compared to previous years. Not including disciplinary action for drug or alcohol offenses, the college reported 30 incidents on campus and 12 on public property near campus buildings, according to the 2017 Annual Security and Fire Safety report. In 2014, there were 37 and 25 reports for on-campus and public property incidents, respectively. 

Although the decrease in crime should bring a sigh of relief, students still have reason to be concerned about their safety and to question how the college will provide a safe environment in light of recent incidents. 

To prepare students for navigating the city, the college’s safety education during orientation sessions, First Semester Experience courses or self-defense workshops tell students to be aware of their surroundings. 

But the college has failed to ensure students are as aware as possible when the crime alerts sent out via email sometimes don’t even make it to many students’ inboxes. It is worrisome that some students learn about nearby crime from local news before being told by the college. 

After the two students were robbed, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety and Security Ronald Sodini sent a campus-wide email acknowledging the incident, reminding students of basic safety steps, such as avoiding traveling alone, and a Dec. 1 self-defense seminar. 

The administration must take all necessary steps to communicate with students after such incidents, and simply sending an email is not enough. The college needs to create an open dialogue on campus to sufficiently address them. 

President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim hold occasional talks with students, and there are meetings that are department-specific or focus on single issues at the college, but students do not have enough opportunities to voice their fears without the administration commanding the direction of such events. If the college hosted regular town hall meetings with staff, students and faculty leading the discussion, these concerns could potentially be dealt with. 

With open dialogue, the college can also discuss collaborating with other South Loop colleges and universities to ensure all students are kept safe, even if they are not on their own college’s property. Columbia can listen to student concerns about the security system and hire well-trained guards who are adequately compensated for their work. Fostering such conversations would inspire greater student involvement and awareness of resources, creating a team effort for a safer campus. 

Like many problems plaguing the college, safety must be a group initiative. If students don’t have the ability to express themselves in a meaningful fashion, the college will never see solutions.