WINONA -- The two young women walking through the Winona State University campus didn't know it, but some simple things like how trees were trimmed and placement of bushes were making them safer.The safety ranking came from The Daily Beast story listing the safest universities in the US and is by the admission of those doing the ranking this determination is an imperfect process.
Trees are trimmed high so no one can hide beneath them, said Don Walski, head of security. And there are no bushes near windows, offering even fewer places for stalkers to hide or peer into the building. [...]
WSU's campus also has 10 code-blue stands allowing passersby to press a button to get security and 100 security cameras, he said. Even good signs helps direct people to the right place and subtle ways, such as berms, to keep people on sidewalks, helps, he said.
For WSU it is important to note that their overall safety strategy is one of pervasive primary prevention rather than basing their strategy on calls for students to become great at self-defense which is what I see in most stories about college student safety. In those other stories the idea of primary prevention seems AWOL.
Self-defense classes can be useful, but they must be a bonus feature.
The story relates that the campus has 3 full-time officers. The campus also has 65 student trained as security guards.
These numbers alone don't mean increased safety. Less than a year ago the chief of police for Colorado State University was suspended after multiple complaints.
Having poorly selected, poorly trained or poorly managed security staff and volunteers can be worse than having no security at all since those assigned to protect can become perpetrators.
This happened where a man in the UK assigned by a university staff member to see an intoxicated woman safely home sexually assaulted her. The criminal justice system can make this worse if the law or the person charged with upholding the law fails to recognize that consent should never be a valid defense in this type of situation. That's what happened in this case. The judge declared that drunken consent was still consent when all that judge had was a counter allegation of consent from the defendant.
Since those who were asleep or passed out cannot testify that they didn't mumble something which might be taken as consent many of these cases are tossed out when it is clear that the victim couldn't have given meaningful consent.
One of the changes at WSU was to make the campus alcohol free which is much more effective than allowing alcohol but telling only potential victims (usually women being warned about rapists) not to drink. This double standard creates an atmosphere of official victim blaming whenever someone, especially a woman student, was assaulted. If alcohol is contributing to significant numbers of college crimes then any ban or restriction must be applied to all students.
The University of Wisconsin La Crosse, a non-dry school, was also included in the list of safest colleges. They do restrict the sale, possession and usage of alcohol on campus. However, they do have issues with alcohol and safety, but most of that is non-crime danger.
In 2006 one of their students, Luke Homan, drowned in the nearby Mississippi River. There were rumors of foul play, but no evidence was found by the FBI. A major factor is the design of the levee and its proximity to the downtown bars which can make it too easy for someone impaired at night to not realize they are close to falling into the river. Because of the number of drinking and drowning incidents in La Crosse, efforts have been made to reduce the risk of drowning.
As I pointed out in my post titled Safety & crime prevention tips for new students with emphasis on sexual violence drinking by college students contributes to an estimated 1,700 deaths and 599,000 injuries each year. These numbers weren't included in the calculation unless they happened during a crime.
The most important take away message for me is that pervasive safety happens by designing safety into all aspects of a college from landscaping to student conduct policies and that the administration and all those in positions of authority on a college campus must reject victim blaming and not just for sex crimes.