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How are HBCU campuses dealing with concerns about student safety?

Rhoden Fellows tell us what’s happening at their schools and whether they feel safe

After a shooting death April 20 on the campus of North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, we asked the six Rhoden Fellows how safe they felt on their respective campuses at Grambling State, Hampton, Howard, Morehouse, Morgan State and NC A&T. Each student reached out to their school’s administration for responses to questions, and they had varied results.

Concerns remain after shooting at NC A&T

NC A&T student concerns and questions over public safety are rising after a recent shooting at a dormitory on campus. On April 20, 25-year-old Vic Kimeko D. James, who was not a student at the university, was shot and killed at Pride Hall.

Nahndi Kirk Bradley, a freshman biological engineering student from Columbia, South Carolina, said the recent shootings at and around NC A&T have made her feel less safe. In October 2016, students Alisia Dieudonne and Ahmad Campbell were shot and killed at a house party near campus.

“In the wake of the two deaths that happened last semester, and then the Pride shooting along with a shooting at a nearby convenience store, I feel less safe than I did when I got here in the first semester,” Kirk Bradley said.

Freshman psychology major Alexis Whidbee shared that she feels safe only some of the time. She says university officials could do more for students.

“It’s safe during the day. But at night, it could get a little rough at times if you live on some specific parts of campus. Things tend to happen more, so during the night you have to be more watchful,” Whidbee said. “I feel like they should implement more cameras on campus. It may not help them solve cases, but it can help them track when certain people are in areas that they shouldn’t be.”

The university held a forum for students to voice their worries and offer suggestions for increasing security on and around the campus. Many students questioned the timeliness of how they were informed of this potential danger.

Todd Simmons, associate vice chancellor for university relations, said the goal is to assure the NC A&T family that measures are being taken to ensure safety on campus.

“Even one incident of injury or fatality is one too many. We are certainly glad that none of our students or faculty or staff were injured or harmed in this recent incident, and we regret the loss of life from the visitor on our campus,” Simmons said. “We are going to continue to double down on all of our efforts to keep this campus safe. We have a strong track record of safety here, and we are daily interested in ways we can improve it and make all of our constituents feel safe and secure every time they are on this campus.” — Donovan Dooley

New surveillance cameras at Morehouse

As of Jan. 24, there were 30 cameras covering roughly 70 percent of the campus in an effort to battle the West End’s crime problem.

Unless you are one of the rare fanatics who follow the Morehouse Campus Police Department like the NBA, this is breaking news.

In total, there are five license plate readers and 35 surveillance cameras installed as a result of a partnership among Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse School of Medicine.

Just after 10 a.m. on May 2, the Office of Campus Police was quick to notify students via email of a handbag containing a handgun and ammunition found in an academic building. This is extremely troubling, considering the shooting that left one man dead at North Carolina A&T just under three weeks ago.

When approached for comment, both before and after the handbag was found, the department did not respond.

A search for campus safety information on the internet is no better. A simple Google search of “Morehouse Campus Police” yields an outdated campus alert and a crime prevention packet that incorrectly identifies Vernon Worthy as the chief of police.

From new student orientation, freshmen are told ad nauseam by campus police the horror stories of armed robberies and unprovoked assaults that often discourage them from walking anywhere after sunset.

Admittedly, campus police have made noticeable improvements. Streets known to be hotbeds for criminal activity are now lined with police vehicles.

According to the data from areavibes.com, the overall crime rate in the West End is 223 percent higher than the national average. On his first day, then-President John S. Wilson was even greeted with the news that a student had been robbed at gunpoint.

The West End is sadly a microcosm of Atlanta. In 2016, the city was named one of America’s murder capitals based upon data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. In the past month alone, there have been 123 violent crimes committed in Fulton County, Georgia’s largest county and where Morehouse is located.

Other schools might rave about their new security systems, but many Morehouse students are ignorant of their new system’s existence. Other than a few press releases, there has been no mention of the surveillance cameras to students.

Morehouse is home to just over 2,100 students who deserve to know the measures taken to improve their daily lives. A lack of communication will only lead to doubts about the college’s law enforcement.

While the effort to beef up security is surely appreciated, so is a certain level of transparency. C. Isaiah Smalls II

Some policy changes after assaults at Howard

At Howard University, sexual assault and domestic violence have been the most common concerns when it comes to students feeling unsafe on campus.

According to the university’s Department of Public Safety 2015 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, in 2015 there were reports of 16 rape and 10 domestic violence offenses against women, with both categories up from previous years.

Two of the most discussed incidents in the past year have been a male flasher reportedly harassing women last month and a female student saying she was raped by a Howard male student on campus in March 2016.

The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper, reported in April that a man was spotted in the chemistry building exposing himself at least twice in front of a group of female students during the week of March 20. The newspaper reported that for more than a month, rumors of a man exposing himself in campus buildings have swirled but have been vaguely addressed by Howard police and administration.

On May 1, Howard University’s Department of Public Safety released a crime alert about investigating reports of a man exposing himself. Three reported incidents have occurred in the chemistry building, at 525 College St. NW in Washington, D.C. The last reported incident occurred on May 1 at about 10:50 a.m.

Another major incident occurred in March 2016. According to the Howard University News Service, a Howard University resident assistant was accused of sexually assaulting a student who lived in the building where he worked. He had been fired and banned from UCLA in 2014 for falsifying information to obtain employment. The student later transferred to Howard and was hired in the university’s Department of Residence Life.

A social media campaign, #TakeBackTheNightHU, trended on Twitter in 2016 as a protest after students accused Howard’s administration of ignoring sexual assaults. Because of that case and the concern about a rape culture on campus, the university implemented policy changes regarding employee background checks, including student employees.

The Public Safety Department had no immediate response to questions for this report. But it advised anyone who observes suspicious people on or around campus to contact campus police immediately. Paul Holston

Hampton’s campus feels safe for me

Hampton University is nothing short of safe.

The school is gated and sits across 314 acres in a low-traffic area. Hampton University police officers (HUPD) are dispersed throughout our “Home by the Sea,” monitoring more than 100 buildings. They are trained former city police officers or military veterans. This makes me feel comfortable; they have years of experience in protecting others.

Additionally, 23 emergency call boxes stand guard on various pathways, ready to connect anyone who pushes the alert button directly to the police. Though I’ve never used them, I’m confident that if I ever needed them, I’d have positive results.

David Glover, chief of Hampton Police, says the boxes are just one mechanism students can use to stay safe.

“The Hampton University Police Department encourages all students to always walk in pairs or groups when traveling about at night. Stay alert and attuned to people and circumstances around you.”

I feel very safe within Hampton’s perimeters, but stepping into the surrounding neighborhood is a different story.

Shootings, burglaries and other crimes plague the apartments that sit across the street from Hampton’s main library. Since the university doesn’t own these apartments, students and nonstudents can live there. I was advised to avoid this area.

HUPD has set up a system to help students stay abreast of crime and other safety concerns on and off campus. The Pirate Notification System (PNS) alerts students about nearby policy activity via text, email or phone call.

“This system is designed with ease-of-use as a priority, allowing users at all levels to quickly and easily send and receive notifications. The PNS will further strengthen our emergency preparedness and communication plans,” Glover said in an email to students.

The system isn’t always timely, but it is more reliable than word-of-mouth. My biggest concerns at Hampton are graduating with honors and getting to class on time. Kyla Wright

Open campus a problem at Grambling State

Grambling State University has an open campus, which means that it is open to everyone, students and nonstudents. This is not an issue for me during the day, but at night I find it worrisome.

After attending this institution for two years, nothing detrimental has happened to me. Still, I try to walk in a group or get a ride to my destination after 10 p.m.

According to GSU Police Sgt. Rodney Pagans, violent crimes are rare on campus. When they do occur, the perpetrator is usually not a student. He says he and his team spend most of their time dealing with theft, burglary, battery and assault.

“With the safety issues, we here at Grambling spend a lot of time in classrooms or in programs speaking to the students so they are aware of the safety issues and what they can do to combat that themselves,” said Pagans.

He said the department patrols the campus regularly and maintains campus lighting. He says installing more outdoor cameras will reduce crime on campus. Campus police and Grambling Student Affairs worked together to reduce the number of fights on campus. In 2016, a new school policy went into effect. The maximum penalty for anyone caught fighting is expulsion, a fine and jail time.

Campus police have also blocked access from a main street onto campus. As a result, the number of nonstudents loitering at major campus events has declined.

“They will come on campus and take advantage of the students. Whether it’s taking advantage of the females, whether it’s taking advantage of people not paying attention to their stuff and they get robbed, or they take advantage of possibly making money and selling their drugs,” said Pagans.

The various changes and preventative measures help me to feel safer on my campus, and I hope it continues. Still, if Grambling State had a closed campus, I think it would be safer, especially at night. Further regulating public access to campus would put a lot of students’ minds at ease. Miniya Shabazz

I don’t feel safe on Morgan State campus

In early April, a student was mugged at Morgan State University (MSU) after leaving the gym at night. The assailants, unknown to the victim, took her cellphone and fled.

As a student at MSU, I was concerned about my own safety and contacted campus security. The department repeatedly declined to comment. Morgan State does alert students about police activity immediately via email. However, this messaging system does not share if and when the situation has been resolved. The university can and should do more to protect its students.

Most historically black colleges and universities, like Morgan State, are located in predominantly urban areas with high levels of crime. The school is located in northeast Baltimore, and in 2012 the school was ranked sixth on a list of “America’s Most Crime-Rattled Colleges.”

Incidents of robbery and burglary are common at the university, but those crimes declined from 2013 to 2015. At least one rape was reported for each year of that time frame.

The university has employed an impressive number of people to address these issues. The public safety program on campus includes professional police officers, public safety aides or security guards. These men and women patrol campus by foot, bicycle and car, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also receive training in first aid, firearms, defensive tactics, legal updates, evidence gathering, traffic accident investigation, crime prevention and drug suppression operations.

However, on more than one occasion, I’ve observed security guards who look more preoccupied with their phones than monitoring their surroundings.

Tourists and locals can access MSU’s 152-acre campus at any time of day, but an MSU ID card is required to access facilities and events. The relationship between the campus and neighborhood seems cordial, but online comment sites advise being vigilant on the east side of campus. The west side has more retail and restaurants, and bike paths are being paved.

The campus security website boasts that “emphasis is focused on protective lighting, landscaping, groundskeeping and in identifying areas of the campus which may contribute to conditions that may be conducive to crime.” However, there are several poorly lit walkways and common areas around the school property.

This is important to me because I attend a night class every Thursday. When I leave, I want to make it home without being harassed, threatened or mugged. Campus police escorts are available to drive students around campus so we don’t have to walk alone. That is the only procedure that gives me a sense of security at night. Simone Benson

Liner Notes

We want to hear what other historically black universities and colleges are doing to deter crime and keep students safe on campus. Send your responses to rhodenfellows@gmail.com.

The Rhoden Fellows Initiative is a two-year training program for the next generation of sports journalists from HBCUs, headed by former New York Times award-winning columnist and Andscape editor-at-large William C. Rhoden. The fellowship, established as part of Andscape's mission to develop new voices and serve as an incubator for future multicultural journalists, is open to outstanding undergraduate students at HBCUs.