During the first two months of the school year, the Yale community has witnessed six armed robberies and two shootings. The Yale Police Department has increased patrols, the administration has promised new security initiatives, and students have circulated e-mail petitions demanding greater campus safety.
While the recent crimes have affected day to day life at Yale for many students, their effect on the University’s public image seems to be less dramatic. The recent crimes have gone unnoticed among many prospective students, and people involved in admissions both within and outside of Yale suggest campus security is unlikely to affect the number of this year’s applicants. But the University still contends with a long-standing negative image of the city it calls home.
Though it has been covered by local media and was detailed in an Oct. 23 New York Times article titled “Two Wheeled Turf Battles,” Helaine Klasky, director of Yale’s Office of Public Affairs, expressed no concern that the crime increase will create a problem for the University’s public image. There is no perception among prospective students that Yale has gotten more dangerous, she said.
Some high school guidance counselors also said news of recent crimes around Yale has not reached many applicants. Bruce Bailey, director of college counseling at Lakeside School in Seattle, Wash., said six of the school’s 127 seniors are applying to Yale under Early Action, which he said is a typical number for Lakeside. None of the interested students, Bailey said, have discussed Yale-area crime with him.
Bailey said that even if students were aware of the crime increase, it would not play a large role in their decision to apply to Yale.
“Those that are applying are applying to Yale, not to New Haven,” Bailey said. “It’s the Yale draw, not so much the New Haven draw, that’s a factor in the decision.”
Several college counselors from across the country said they agreed that most applicants had not heard of a crime increase around Yale’s campus.
But some applicants said it is not easy for them to divorce Yale’s campus from its surroundings. Ongoing crime in New Haven is an issue several applicants said they do keep in mind. Even though this fall’s crime increase may not have had an immediate effect on Yale’s reputation, long-held negative views of New Haven still impact some students’ assessment of the University.
Jacob Koch, a senior at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, Ill., who is applying to the Class of 2010, said that for some people, Yale is still in a reputedly undesirable location.
“When you tell people you’re applying to Yale, they say, ‘Oh, New Haven,’ and they give you that look,” Koch said.
On her recent visit to Yale, Patsy Wagner, a senior at Milton Academy in Milton, Mass., did not get the sense that the campus was unsafe, she said. But she said ongoing crime problems in New Haven are a concern.
“Being a woman, a young woman knowing that there’s a crime problem in New Haven, makes me a little uneasy about the campus,” Wagner said.
But Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said the crime increase is unlikely to affect this year’s number of applicants.
“From time to time, many campuses experience a run of incidents that raise legitimate concerns, but most college guides, as well as most applicants and their families, take longer term perspectives,” Brenzel said in an e-mail. “From that perspective, crime has not been a major issue for Yale applicants in recent history.”
Leo Simonetta, research director at Art and Science Group, a company that handles public relations and marketing for higher education said that among the factors students consider when assessing a school, crime and campus security have only a small effect on their decisions.
“To a large extent we find that most students are not frightened off by the potential of crime,” Simonetta said. “Part of it is because they’re 18 and they think they’ll never die, but part of it is because they have a realistic view that most college campuses, even if they’re located in cities, are their own universes. In most times, the city doesn’t intrude on the campus.”
Simonetta said he thinks New Haven crime is unlikely to damage Yale’s image unless it becomes a sustained problem.
“If it became a long term trend where it got worse and worse every year, it might have an effect,” he said. “But if it’s just a one year blip or a two year blip or even a five year blip, I don’t see it having a significant effect.”
In his nearly three years as a Yale tour guide, Austin Broussard ’06 said he has always fielded questions concerning Yale’s security measures. But he has only received two questions specifically related to New Haven’s crime wave this fall.
“People have a perception of New Haven as a dangerous urban area,” Broussard said. “But I get the same sort of general questions I always have.”
New Haven’s reputed lack of safety is often compared to the more neutral reputation of Cambridge, Mass., home of Yale’s top competitor. Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis said some prospective students and parents tell her they think Harvard is safer than Yale, though both schools are in urban areas. Lewis said on a recent visit to Turkey, she met a prospective student who was particularly worried about crime at Yale because she had heard that New Haven was dangerous.
But the perception that New Haven is more dangerous than Cambridge is a distortion, Lewis said. Statistics released in August by the Harvard Police Department reported that Harvard experienced a 38 percent rise in violent crime in the past year.
“I think it would be crazy to think there’s a significant difference between them,” Lewis said. “In both places people need to be vigilant.”
Even if there is a perception that New Haven is more dangerous than Cambridge, Lewis said she does not think that crime in either Cambridge or New Haven is an important factor in students’ decisions to attend Harvard or Yale. If students choose to attend Harvard over Yale, it is not because they think Harvard is safer, but because it is simply a better fit for them, she said, and the reverse is also true.
“I don’t think they go to Yale because they think it’s safer,” Lewis said. “If you ask them why they go, the answer is always, ‘I like Yale better.'”