Why the List of ‘10 Most Dangerous College Campuses’ Is Dangerous and Misleading

Reports purportedly listing America's 'Most Dangerous Colleges' discourage campuses from accurately reporting crime. This puts students, faculty, and staff in more, not less, danger.
Published: June 4, 2024

Once again, another “Most Dangerous College Campuses in America” list has just been published. This time by a Virginia-based personal injury law firm, the Parrish Law Firm. It’s been 12 years since I first wrote Publishing the ‘25 Most Dangerous Colleges in America’ List is Irresponsible. In that article, I explained that lists like these that solely rely on reported crime data threaten to reverse the progress made by victim advocates and organizations like the Clery Center that have been working diligently to encourage colleges to report crime.

Let me recap a portion of my previous article:

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.

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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 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?”

Although this article is more than a decade old, it still applies to institutions of higher education today. Just look at Liberty University, which for years marketed itself as one of the nation’s safest college campuses. Liberty executives probably believed they could make that claim because they swept under the rug or ignored many of the sexual assaults that were happening in the campus community. The school also discouraged and even punished victims who came forward.

Do we want to incentivize colleges to follow Liberty University’s example so that they won’t land on a “Most Dangerous College Campuses” list? The U.S. Department of Education certainly doesn’t think so. That’s why it fined Liberty University a record $14 million fine for violating the Clery Act in March.

Should I Believe ‘Most Dangerous College Campus’ Lists?

Reports purportedly listing America’s ‘Most Dangerous Colleges’ discourage institutions of higher education from accurately reporting crime and complying with the Clery Act. This puts students, faculty, and staff in more, not less, danger.

I informed the Parrish Law Firm of this fact when I responded to them after they sent me their “10 Most Dangerous College Campuses” report. I also urged them, in no uncertain terms, to NOT publish their report. They chose to publish it anyway. (Because lists like these do so much damage, I’m not going to link to Parrish’s report and reward them for bad behavior.)

I call on them to immediately take down their report and apologize to the campuses that are on the list. I also call on them to clearly explain why they are wrong and urge institutions of higher education to fully report crime and comply with the Clery Act.

As far as the radio station that ran the article about the list is concerned, at least they also ran responses from some of the colleges on the list. (It turns out that most of the incidents cited in the report were disciplinary incidents, such as drug and alcohol violations, not violent crimes.)

I hope WIBX will also issue an apology and learn from their mistake. To be frank, when I first started with Campus Safety, I too thought that a high number of reported crimes on campus meant that an institution of higher education was not safe. I’ve since learned the error of my ways.

As for Parrish Law, they need to make this right.

Update: An article covering this report also ran in the Daily Mail.

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