A global reputation for academic excellence. A beautiful campus with renowned architecture. A dynamic student body that pumps energy and life into activities outside the classroom. These are all facts about Yale University. They are the reasons why many of us chose to come here and the incentive for parents to drop us off at Phelps Gate and trust that we will emerge from our Yale experience ready for life.
But it is an unfortunate reality of our time at Yale that too much of that experience is defined by something none of us came here looking to find: crime.
Crime is a part of Yale culture. When we walk the streets late at night, we fear being mugged. When we trek over to Howe Street to snag a Wenzel, or even just to Toad’s, we hope that gunshots don’t ring out while we’re there. And when we hear rustling in the common room in the early morning, we want it to be our suitemates returning from a fun night, not a burglar taking easy advantage of the hanger or tape we’ve lodged in the door.
This is not just an undergraduate experience. Indeed, the poor graduate students seem to bear more than their fair share of street robberies, adding to their ever-growing list of woes. Many Yale employees return home every day to neighborhoods with even more serious crime problems.
And all of us receive the periodic crime notifications in our inboxes from Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins. On a campus with such diverse interests, social circles and daily routines, the crime alerts are one of the few things that all Yalies share. They unite us in victimhood against a common foe that could strike any one of us. And there’s a lighter side to them as well. The details of the crimes become amusing, if alarming, anecdotes that we share with each other over lunch. “Did you see a guy got mugged by two teenage girls last night? Crazy. And right near my apartment,” goes a common refrain. For its joke issue several weeks ago, this newspaper even ran a Mad Libs version of a typical crime email, largely because the editors knew that it’s one of the few official University communications that students can instantly recognize and to which they can relate. (Side note: I heard Chief Higgins read the Mad Lib to his officers at a YPD staff meeting).
It’s not just crime that is all around us; the University’s and city’s responses to criminal activity also permeate our Yale experience. The emergency blue phones are everywhere — as any tour guide will tell a concerned parent: on campus, you’re always within sight of one. The campus is also patrolled by three security services: New Haven Police, Yale Police, who — unlike the police at many other universities — is an armed force, and the unarmed Yale Security officers.
Sometimes the center of Yale’s campus looks like a police state. Walking from your dorm to Gourmet Heaven and back, you might see five to 10 security officers of some kind. This is not necessarily a bad thing — they are all there to protect us and most of them do their job well. But the officers, the phones, the guns — it all adds up to a Yale security state and a constant reminder that there is danger lurking, and Yale knows it.
Yet Yale’s campus is not some cesspool of crime and disorder. It is relatively safe — maybe not Idaho State safe, or even Brigham Young University safe — but safe. It is not even significantly more crime-ridden than other Ivy League schools, some of which have reported more crime than Yale. Yale crime has dropped each of the last three years, decreasing 11 percent in just this past one. But crime is persistent and — when combined with the ever present Yale security forces — has taken hold of students’ perceptions of the University and city. So whether crime goes down 10 percent this year, or up 6 percent the next, the idea of Yale and New Haven as places where crime is common has been implanted and will not fade quickly.
I worked as this newspaper’s crime reporter two years ago. But now I will need your help — I urge you to contact me with any and all tips, rumors and experiences with crime and security.
Crime is inherently scary, but the more we grasp about it, its causes, effects and responses to it, the easier it will be to respond in ways that both reduce crime and the fear associated with it. That is what I hope to do with this new weekly crime column — to inform people about the crime and security situation so that we as a campus are not simply aware of crime, but understand it and respond to it with intelligence and concern, not fear.
Colin Ross is a senior in Berkeley College and a former managing editor of the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.