The last two weeks have been difficult for the VCU community.
After two deaths, a fatal shooting, a stabbing and a few noted robberies, a dark overcast has colored our campus, making VCU’s Open House event for prospective families this past weekend feel odd and discomforting for all parties involved. How could we, both the student body and the university’s administration, encouragingly advertise our university’s safe environment with the headlines, “Alarm system under fire after fatal shooting, stabbing,” and, “Student, 19, dies after fall at Fan house party?”
Difficult, painstaking and complicated: Those are the words that describe the effort. Those are the words that propel us through this crisis. Those are the words that jostle against stability in our minds.
Explaining to thousands of parents and current and prospective students the numerous safety measures in place to protect students isn’t an ideal task, but it symbolizes what we must do: move forward.
Moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting about the stumbles that brought us to where we are today, but rather acknowledging their existence as parts that construct our whole. We are undeniably products of our experiences, whether they are good or bad; that’s as true for us as individuals as it is for our university. Despite all that has happened, members of this community have a responsibility to remember and accept of what has happened as a tragic experience and not as defining characteristics of our community.
VCU is not a dangerous place and, albeit to a lesser extent, neither is the city of Richmond. There are, however, “known unknown” elements to be accounted for in both arenas. That’s a reality of life, our environment and the nature of an open campus.
To that end, it is important to recognize that the reportage of negative events that alter VCU’s reputation are markings of an informative media presence and tragedies of affiliation. Demagoguery and sensationalism are not factors that drive legitimate media outlets, such as this publication; rather, we perform our duty as a service to the community at large, to check authoritative power and to inform the populace.
As someone who makes a point to be vocal when it’s appropriate to criticize VCU for its shortcomings and oversights, now’s not the time to engage in petty hashtag sniping. The administration and the VCU Police Department have taken great measures, some intrusively so, to maximize security on-campus. To say that VCU doesn’t care about the safety of its students is baseless and dishonest.
As the largest investment and raison d’etre of the university, VCU cares very much about the safety, concerns and well-being of the student body and faculty. With around 90 sworn officers, more than 200 supplementary security personnel, more than 350 Emergency Reporting Telephone System phones, hundreds of surveillance cameras and a private security force that patrols campus, it’s no secret that fighting crime is a priority. It’s also not surprising that the most recent campus security survey found that 94.6 percent of the VCU community said they feel “safe” or “very safe” on campus, according to the VCU PD website.
Likewise, the city of Richmond cares about VCU; as a chief investor in the area and a viable business partner, the university’s well-being and reputation matters. The combined policing powers of the city and VCU PD has done a great job of creating a responsive, if not completely secure, environment.
Preventative measures that ultimately dissuade criminal activity have not been invested in by the city in a concerted way. City data shows that the violent and property crime rates of the city remain above the national average, although they are decreasing every year. Current methods of enforcement are working effectively, but more can be done, particularly from a policy and governing angle.
Every year, a similar crisis concerning safety arises, and every year, VCU acts to be more vigilant and increase awareness. While the timing of the tragedies has been coincidental, they stand to remind us of our own impermanence. We need not live in fear of what we fear. Recognize the reality of our environment, rather than belittling or dismissing the honest efforts by our university.
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