The billboards are jarring – bold white text in all caps overlaid on images of police tapes and crime maps. “Tell me you go to Ohio State (don’t tell me you go to Ohio State),” a billboard announced, showing a car with a missing tire. The implication is clear – getting your tires stolen is part of attending Ohio State.

The signs, located near Columbus’ flagship campus, are the work of a group of Ohio State parents trying to focus on what they believe the university has failed to reduce off-campus crime. The group was called Buckeyes for a Safe Ohio State after a 23-year-old student, Chase Meola, was shot dead in his off-campus residence in 2020.

The group called on the university to increase lighting and cameras, send more frequent crime notifications and increase police patrols. While the university has made recent strides in these areas, group leaders say it’s not doing enough.

But at the same time, Ohio State is under pressure to cut back on campus police. Last spring, on the same day that a Minneapolis jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, a Columbus police officer shot and killed a 16-year-old black girl named Machia Floyd. Bryant. The next day, hundreds of Ohio State students took part in a student council sit-in and called on their university to end its relationship with the city’s police.

That didn’t happen. In August, the Ohio government, following the task force’s notice, announced measures to combat off-campus crime, including increased lighting, cameras and police. Shortly thereafter, the university’s president, Kristina M. Johnson, announced a $20 million plan to improve safety on and off campus over the next decade.

As violent crime surges across the country, from Temple University to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, parent groups are calling on universities to step up public safety measures on and off campus. At the same time, these institutions face a flood of complaints of injustice and racial discrimination from students, staff and others on campus. In this divisive climate, universities are struggling to preserve the trust of their stakeholders, knowing that their admissions, reputations and relationships hang in the balance.

Competitive concept about safety

In March, parents of some Temple University students banded together to hire private security to patrol the Philadelphia neighborhood where their children live.according to Temple Newssome parents feel that colleges are not doing enough to protect students.

Temple’s parents were thrilled in November when Temple senior Samuel Collington, 21, was shot outside his apartment in an attempted robbery.

On March 23, Temple announced new safety measures to protect students living off campus. These include grants to landlords to allow student tenants to install lighting and cameras, and to allow students living off-campus to move into campus for the remainder of the semester. Following Collington’s death, Temple vowed to increase its police presence by 50 percent; it expects to achieve that goal by the end of the year.

We’re definitely leaning more towards parents, and we’re doing something that maybe a lot of student groups don’t really approve of.

By partnering with Philadelphia police, Temple can increase patrol hours to combat rising crime in off-campus areas where students live.

But just like at Ohio State, not everyone was enthusiastic about the idea of ​​adding police at Temple.

Progressive activists have raised concerns about racial profiling of black students and local residents. Some argue that Temple should do a better job of addressing what they call the root causes of crime, including poverty and housing displacement. The university has long had a worrisome relationship with the majority black community in North Philadelphia that surrounds it.

Parent groups advocating for increased policing tend to promote the voices of white parents, said Charles H.F. Davis III, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Center for Higher Education and Postsecondary Education Research.

“Part of what white parents mean is… ‘You need to protect our students, which is us, from them, this is the community this institution is in,'” Davis explained. “[As] Oppose talking about how the agency’s relationship with the community creates the conditions and atmosphere that make gun violence possible. “

For its part, Temple is trying to improve relations with surrounding areas through the Good Neighbor Initiative, which provides students with guidance on how to behave responsibly in nearby communities and hosts events to engage students and community members.

“University has become the new high school”

Since the pandemic began in 2020 amid a nationwide racial reckoning, groups of parents have sprouted as many cities experience higher rates of violent crime. Like their children, parents are increasingly connecting online, with much of this organizing taking place in private Facebook groups and other social media platforms.

While the groups themselves may be new, parents have been organizing around student health and safety for years. Parents support dozens of organizations working to prevent and recognize bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault and suicide.

The Clery Act, which requires federally funded universities to disclose information about crimes on and near campuses, is a product of parental activism in part.

Temple’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, Ken Kaiser, said the anxiety caused by the pandemic is now increasing parental involvement in student life in a new way.

“Let’s face it, I think college has become the new high school from that perspective,” Kaiser said. “In high school, parents are called helicopter parents. That kind of translates to college. That separation is hard.”

Stephen Zenner, SOPA Images, LightRocket, Getty Images

In April 2021, Ohio State University students held a sit-in within the Ohio Union to protest the shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant by local police a day earlier. Protesters demanded that the university cut ties with the Columbus Police Department.

Of course, students are also worried about their personal safety. But many are reimagining what it could look like, and in the process shedding light on their parents’ minds. The murder of George Floyd and police killings of other black people have prompted some to change their attitudes toward campus police.

The belief that the police should not have a place on campuses has grown in popularity, and grassroots movements to reform or abolish campus police departments have emerged.

In May 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities restricted contact with the Minneapolis Police Department. In fall 2021, Portland State University disarmed campus patrols.

Pranav Jani, an associate professor of English at Ohio State, collected the signatures of faculty and staff for a petition that originally called for Ohio State to cut ties with the Columbus Police Department in the summer of 2020. He said he was surprised how many Ohio State professors were willing to put their names on the letter.

More than 500 people signed it, Jani said.

“This shows how much the country has shifted between the first phase of Black Lives Matter in 2014 and this one in 2020, more people are willing to listen and at least join in to publicly promote the movement or its reasons in some way, ‘ said Jani.

Still, campus security expert S. Daniel Carter said he hasn’t seen any agency make a “fundamental shift” in its campus police protocols since 2020. He said the university is resolving the controversy over campus police “by maintaining the status quo.”

balance problem

As students, staff and parents push their institutions to adopt their specific safety philosophies, university administrators find themselves in hot spots, with every decision heavily scrutinized and exaggerated, from the editorial pages of student newspapers to the news media. twitter account That label university leadership.

Inevitably, administrators must make decisions that frustrate or anger parts of the campus community.

“We’re definitely leaning more toward parents, and we’re doing something that a lot of student groups don’t really support,” Temple’s Kaiser said. “Our partnership with the Philadelphia Police has grown from 96 patrol hours a week to about 300. Obviously that’s not what many students are in favor of.”

When the government has to announce a controversial decision or reject someone, it helps explain reasons, correct misinformation and hear from those who disagree, Caesar said.

While some students and staff oppose policing, Temple must respond to safety concerns on and off campus, which means cooperating with police, Kaiser said. He said the university tried to explain this to its opponents, but it understood it couldn’t make everyone happy.

Temple and other agencies must balance these safety concerns with parental expectations. For example, some parents concerned about crime want the university to provide a shuttle from the Center City campus to the main campus in North Philadelphia. But, Kaiser said, a city subway and a regional train already cover the route.

“You don’t want to just say to a parent, ‘No, we can’t do it,’ but ‘We can’t do it, but here are some really viable options for getting your kids back and forth in a very safe way,'” Caesar said .

Additionally, institutions like Temple can only do so much to limit off-campus crime, said Steven J. Healy, co-founder and CEO of campus safety consulting firm Margolis Healy.

Healey said colleges should use existing means of communication — blogs, newsletters, liaison officers — to talk to parents. For students, he said, institutions needed to explain their initiatives to show they were doing fair policing.

“People have to understand the limits of what an agency can do in terms of providing a level of security,” Healy said. “We can’t make everything absolutely 100 per cent safe. Agencies have done a lot to do that, but they’re also calling for the removal of police presence in many areas.”

“How does this help anyone?”

Attempts by administrators to maintain good state don’t always go according to plan.

In March, Ohio State launched a new feature for sharing off-campus crime information with those on campus — a “community crime map” with statistics from the Columbus Police Department. The map can be configured to display specific crime categories and data from several years ago. Users can also sign up to receive crime alerts via email.

Open the map and the pre-programmed settings show that from March 13 to April 12, there were 3 personal robberies, 5 residential burglaries and 4 aggravated assaults within a mile of campus.

We cannot make everything absolutely 100% secure.

The map replaces the University’s emailed “Community Safety Notice”. Officials touted how they were meeting students’ demands to present crime information in visual form.

The leaders of the Buckeyes for a Safe Ohio State were less enthusiastic. One parent, Allyson Reid, said crime maps put the onus on students to find information. “How does this help anyone?” she asked.

While receiving alerts does require an extra step, parents can easily sign up for alerts for students using their university email addresses, said Monica Moll, director of public safety at Ohio State University.

Controversy over maps – a measure designed to provide more Information, therefore, a greater sense of security – reflecting unpredictable reactions to new security protocols. Campus safety officials cannot be 100% sure who will like their choices and who will hate them.

But officials stressed that the goal was not to make people happy. This is to keep people safe.