I just came across Business Insider’s “25 Most Dangerous Colleges in America,” and am extremely concerned that lists like this one will actually make colleges more dangerous rather than more secure. It threatens to reverse the progress made by victim advocates and organizations like the Clery Center for Security On Campus (SOC) that have been working diligently to encourage colleges to report crime.
Usually, when people who are not familiar with law enforcement look at crime statistics, they assume that the institutions with the greater number of incidents reported are less safe than the institutions that have a lower number of crimes reported. They don’t understand that when crime stats are higher, it often means the campus in question is realistically dealing with its crime problem and is dedicated to transparency. In essence, more reports of crime very often mean members of the campus community are better informed about threats to their safety. When they have this knowledge, they are more likely to take the steps necessary to protect themselves. Also, if they are confident that their reports of incidents will be taken seriously by campus police and the institution as a whole, they will more likely come forward and make a report if they become a victim of a crime.
Related Article: Want to Attend a Safe College? 10 Questions To Ask Before You Commit
For example, campuses that do a good job of reaching out to victims of sexual assault usually have higher rates of sexual assaults reported. This greater number of reports actually means that victims feel more confident in their campus' handling of of this type of crime. Considering that about 20% of women will experience a sexual assault at some point during their college careers, wouldn’t you rather have your daughter attend a school that addresses issues like sexual assault than let her suffer in silence because the campus is unwilling to acknowledge the problem for fear of being mentioned on a list like "25 Most Dangerous Colleges in America?"
The authors of the Business Insider article name the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as the most dangerous school because it experienced “12 forcible rapes, 11 robberies, 17 aggravated assaults, 195 burglaries, 625 larcenies, 18 motor vehicle thefts, and three incidents of arson in 2011.” I doubt the authors realize that in 2009, UCLA was honored by SOC specifically because the school has worked tirelessly to encourage victims of crime, specifically sexual assault victims, to come forward and report incidents. UCLA's work is most likely the reason why its crime numbers are higher than other institutions that are less diligent in their law enforcement efforts or sweep their crime problems under the rug.
If anything, UCLA and other institutions with higher rates of reported incidents are probably safer than a lot of campuses that lull potential students into a false sense of security with low crime numbers that don’t represent reality. Unfortunately, the Business Insider article could discourage campuses like UCLA from continuing to do a good job of collecting crime data. Doing so would endanger the lives of students, faculty, staff and visitors.
This list brings to mind the 1954 book How to Lie With Statistics, which illustrates how common intentional and unintentional errors associated with the interpretation of statistics can lead to inaccurate conclusions. It appears as though the authors of "25 Most Dangerous Colleges in America" have made the same mistakes. Shame on them.