A few weeks ago I heard a student in one of my classes badmouth New Haven, Connecticut. Essentially he said to some students who were discussing college visits that while the campus of Yale University was impressive, the surrounding areas were ugly and dangerous. Coincidentally my wife and I had been planning a trip to New Haven to visit one of the university’s art galleries, to eat at a Turkish restaurant I had found with my daughter years ago, and to go to IKEA. We found that New Haven’s streets were beautiful and bustling, the art was beyond impressive, the restaurant was as good as I had remembered, and IKEA still didn’t have any more of the stainless steel French press coffee makers. Yale University is, of course, one of the most renowned institutions of higher learning in the United States and internationally and yet its urban setting was clearly an issue in the mind of suburban kids from Connecticut itself in spite of the fact that, truth be told, the areas around the campus I observed appeared prosperous, vibrant, and safe.
How much more difficult then for the significantly more humble (ironically) American-International College in Springfield to overcome the concerns of parents and children alike with respect to its campus and environs. Let me interrupt here by saying that the exact number of bullets I would feel comfortable finding lodged within panes of glass in my house is zero, no more. However, realizing that with dozens of buildings with hundreds or perhaps thousands of windows located in an urban area where gunfire does occur from time to time, statistically speaking, a bullet will strike some glass from time to time.
Recently concern was heightened by an incident described thusly in the media: “On March 29, a cafeteria worker reported a rock striking a window. When police investigated, they found a spent bullet that had pierced the outer pane of the window but had failed to penetrate an inner pane. An investigation determined it was a ricochet round fired during a shootout involving two cars on nearby Oak Grove.”
Again, not cool. But based on the evidence, “AIC” was not the target. The other 4 “incidents” which have lead up to something of a frenzy in the media and on campus include one more bullet crashing through a window on campus (Again, that is now two too many), two reports of actual gunfire near campus, and one apparent false alarm.
On the other hand, here are the actual statistics for the last four years of crime on campus:
And while Masslive found it appropriate to attach a map to the story with murders which have taken place close to the campus since before current seniors at AIC were freshmen, the actual number of AIC students murdered in that time is still 0.
Approximately 26 students are murdered on college campuses in the United States each year according to the Department of Education. At least 40 times that number are killed driving around before and after class (with a number many times that seriously injured as well). In one news report a female student said she was afraid to walk to her car alone and that her parents will not let her take night classes out of concerns for violence…obviously no concern for her commuting day after day despite that being the more likely danger! You can be certain that parents sending children to the nursing school at Georgia Southern University are NOT rethinking their decision to do so in spite of the death of 5 nursing students there this week. That the program includes clinical work at a hospital located 57 miles from campus likely still seems insignificant to them.
Now imagine if just one of those women was murdered while attending a university in an urban setting.
So what should AIC do? First and foremost it can’t do what I’ve just done and express just how disproportionate the reaction has been. No, they have to hold meetings and make sure that there is a palpable increase in police presence as they have done, and obviously they need to bring the SPD into the picture and demonstrate an increased presence in the areas around the campus as well. After that, though, they need to go in a completely different direction. They need to get more students off the campus and onto nearby commercial streets: they need to more fully integrate the “gown” with the “town” on that stretch of upper State Street. If only a handful of AIC students wander off campus to frequent nearby businesses from time to time then they will always feel endangered because they will, in fact, be “out of place”. If they frequent nearby establishments en masse they will not only not be out of place, it will become their place and the place makers will prioritize their needs and their well-being.
Students should be encouraged to dine at nearby restaurants, not just on campus. The college should help leverage start up funding in nearby retail strips for businesses catering to the needs of students. Perhaps a business class could acquire some retail space in some of the underutilized retail space surrounding the campus as well.
In the long run, as I have stated before, Springfield’s colleges will only be as successful as their surrounding community allows them to be. Right now AIC, Springfield College, and Western New England University no doubt view their location within the city as a liability, and as long as they continue to do so it will be. Joining with their community provides the only real hope for the long term health and stability of both the institutions and their neighborhoods.