Editor’s Note: False attack tarnishes Columbia, Chicago’s reputation

By Ariana Portalatin, Editor-in-chief

An alarming campus security alert of a student being stabbed near campus has turned into a confusing story that gets stranger as more details unfold, the most telling being that the attack may not have happened as reported, if at all, as reported on the Front Page. 

A March 6 Campus Safety and Security crime advisory stated a 23-year-old student was walking alone in Grant Park late at night when a black man “approached her from behind, pulled her hair, and demanded money,” before stabbing her three times in the abdomen and fleeing with her debit card, Public Relations Coordinator for the Chicago Police Department Howard Ludwig confirmed. On March 7, another crime advisory revealed the report of the attack was unfounded based on obtained video evidence. 

Details of the incident are surprising but nothing new. The story is reminiscent of the allegedly orchestrated Jussie Smollett attack. Smollett was charged in February with felony disorderly conduct for staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself in January. The two stories are very similar: Both alarmed the public and ignited conversations about public safety and race. But when it was revealed the Smollett attack may have been staged, the conversations switched from concern to anger. If the charges are correct, Smollett wasted the police’s time and added to negative stereotypes about Chicago and its black community. The same is happening here within the Columbia community. 

According to the college’s Institutional Effectiveness website, only 3,171 of the college’s 6,825 total students for fall 2018 come from Chicago and the surrounding metro area. The majority of Columbia’s students are not from the city, and common questions from potential students and their parents are about Chicago’s crime rates and the college’s campus safety. Safety is a major deciding factor for students, as it should be for a school at the center of a city with high crime rates. An alert of a student being stabbed near campus is scary. What do you think was running through the minds of those within the Columbia community? Current students and their parents were most likely scared, but students who may still be deciding on what college to attend probably knocked Columbia lower on their list of possible schools. The college has also been actively making efforts to improve campus safety in response to these concerns. With the declining enrollment Columbia is currently trying to fix, this false report does not help. 

One detail that remains under question is how the student described the man who attacked her. Of everything that had to be figured out before and during this incident, one of them was how the student would describe the attacker when speaking to police. Unfortunately, black Americans are more often accused of crimes they did not commit. According to a March 2017 report by the National Registry of Exonerations, 47 percent of wrongful convictions in the study involved African-Americans. In one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., she chose to describe her attacker as black, adding fuel to the fire as if staging an attack wasn’t bad enough by itself. 

As of press time, we don’t know who this student is, what her motivations were or if charges will be filed against her. What we do know is that filing a false report is wrong and not in the best interest of the college or Chicago. 

When a false report is made about anything, the impact is larger than just the person who made it. People need to think twice before deciding to make a false claim or stage an attack. When this does happen, it’s important for us to remember that stereotypes are not fact, and it is up to us to control the narrative and reputations of those affected by these lies.