I’m glad my parents aren’t coming to Parents’ Weekend. As much as I envy my friends who are getting taken out to Ibiza on someone else’s tab, I wouldn’t want to spend hours calming my mother down after she heard about some of the crime and security issues this year has presented. The spate of suite burglaries, the police stationed outside Vanderbilt, Chief Perrotti’s mammoth public e-mail (notable mostly for the unintentionally hilarious phrase “beaten with milk crates”) and his notification last week of an acquaintance rape. All of these make Yale look like an increasingly unsafe place.
Of course, this isn’t exactly true. The rape-notification e-mail, for example, was actually a step toward safety — this is the first time the student body as a whole has been notified of a forced sex offense, when in the past such events were kept secret. It’s good to see that Chief Perrotti and the YPD are beginning to understand that there is more to security and safety than keeping students abreast of the occasional Lynwood mugging. But they, and we, have a long way to go.
Two of the most serious threats to student security this year — burglaries and the freshman death-threat incident — have met with no public notice whatsoever from the YPD. This is baffling. It is true that federal law doesn’t require crimes of these types to be reported, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect the University to hold itself to a higher standard than the letter of the law. Instead, the “possibility of ongoing threat” should be the sole guiding factor in determining whether or not to inform students of a crime.
“Ongoing threat” is the other federal criterion for requiring notification, in addition to crime type. But it doesn’t seem to fit many of the incidents that do get reported. In fact, it often seems that any vaguely threatening event can be included in a YPD e-mail — assuming, of course, that it occurred off-campus. The automatic threat presumably posed by any off-campus encounter was demonstrated by the “aggressive panhandling” incident over the weekend: When a student reported that money she was taking from her wallet had been grabbed by its intended recipient, Chief Perrotti apparently felt it constituted an ongoing threat and included it in his notice to students.
It’s possible there are facts I don’t have, but it seems to me that grabbing a student’s hand, and taking money that was in the process of being offered, does not constitute much of a crime. Is it inappropriate? Of course. Intimidating? Probably. But a violation of personal space is not prosecutable, even off campus. A Yale sweatshirt is not a shield.
The acquaintance rape of last week constituted a much more significant violation. But while notification was necessary, the detail that it occurred “off campus” — the only detail in the e-mail — was not. The implication that the location is important — as if rape were more likely in one bedroom than another — is horrifying and dangerous. It makes it far too easy to assume that the most important fact about criminals is that they aren’t one of us.
The reality is that they can be. Current national discussion of crime, especially among liberals, focuses on underlying social and economic factors in an attempt to address the “root causes” of crime — and in most cases, this is laudable. When assessing personal safety, however, it lends itself to a certain degree of laziness. If the causes of crime are socioeconomic, and non-Yalies are more likely to be disadvantaged than Yalies are, it is rational and even prudent to be permanently wary of off-campus areas. This only goes so far, and only works for some types of crimes. Raping an acquaintance or writing death threats is more likely to be caused psychologically than socioeconomically — and Yale students aren’t immune from mental illness.
In fact, “medical reasons” caused the roommate of the targeted Branford freshman to withdraw earlier this week; while nothing is proven, there were rumors that the roommate had written the threats. Should this turn out to be true, the stationing of YPD officers outside Vanderbilt will seem unnecessary in retrospect. We should not always assume that the threat is without rather than within.
All of which isn’t to say that students should be more careful around everyone they meet; it’s silly to assume without reason that anyone is a criminal. If the disproportionate anxiety regarding off-campus incidents was better directed toward equipping students with information to handle ongoing threats, everyone would be and feel safer. The crime log on the YPD’s Web site, which does not label incidents as being on- or off-campus, has it right: Crimes that matter can happen anywhere on the map.
Dara Lind is a junior in Berkeley College. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.