Last night, as I was getting ready to leave The Chronicle’s office in 301 Flowers and go home, I remembered that my car was not on campus. I had walked from my off-campus apartment to my first class earlier that morning and hadn’t left campus since. One of the editors in the office suggested calling Safe Rides to get a lift back to my apartment, but I decided waiting around for the shuttle to arrive would be more trouble than it was worth. I insisted I would be perfectly fine making the 10 to 15 minute walk back home. It was about 11:30 p.m. and my phone was dead. As I walked out of the Flowers Building, past the Duke Chapel and into the mini-forest separating the Chapel from Science Drive, I had a startling realization: For the first time in my three-plus years at Duke, I didn’t feel safe on campus.
As a 21-year-old male, that isn’t an easy thing to admit. Rarely do I ever feel like I’m in a vulnerable or unsafe position—especially not somewhere that I consider home. Obviously, I made it back to my apartment safely despite my admittedly poor decision to walk back alone at midnight, but there was no doubt that the recent string of on-campus robberies had rattled my nerves and general sense of security here at Duke.
Normally, I’d be quick to critique the administration’s handling of such a situation, but in this case, I actually have to commend them for taking the appropriate first steps while not rushing into any major decisions that will have long-lasting effects on the University. Though I’ve previously been skeptical about the administrators’ concern for student well-being when it comes to drinking, I do firmly believe that the Allen Building is taking these events seriously and doing the best job possible to strike a balance between student safety and Duke’s continued presence in the greater Durham community.
In the immediate aftermath of the string of robberies on Central Campus, the University upped security staffing to better patrol the campus and began implementing landscaping and lighting changes to increase visibility in heavy foot traffic areas. These personnel changes were apparent when, following the Aug. 25 robbery between Perkins and Bostock Libraries, I encountered Duke Police officers inspecting all of the cars exiting West Campus within 15 minutes of the crime’s reporting. Furthermore, seeing two security vehicles patrolling Research Drive during my brief, midnight walk home also helped to temper my nerves.
Since that most recent incident outside Perkins, Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh has said that administrators are considering restricting access to campus roadways at night, especially along Towerview Drive. With regard to this latter step, I encourage the University to continue carefully weighing their options.
It goes without saying that Duke University has a strong interest in protecting its students, but it also has to consider how restricting access to campus would affect perceived safety, as well as Duke’s image in the community. To this day, my most vivid memory of touring the University of Pennsylvania is walking past security guards and through electronic, bulletproof glass gates every time I stepped foot on campus. Granted, Durham is not West Philadelphia, and these are not exactly the security measures that Cavanaugh and his colleagues have in mind, but the general point remains the same: At a certain point, the more you “secure” a campus, the more you begin to question your own security.
Arguably more important than this perceived sense of safety is the potential effect of new security measures on Duke’s relationship with Durham. The University is always looking to strengthen its bonds with the community, and making Duke an even less contiguous part of the city and more of a walled fortress within it would do nothing to help foster that connection. If anything, it would further the damaging perception of entitled Duke students looking down upon their inferior neighbors. In choosing to come to Duke, we also choose to make Durham our home for (at least) four years of our lives. We shouldn’t necessarily fortify the walls separating the “Duke bubble” from our home away from home just because of a small uptick in crime.
Here’s how I see it: When the issue at hand is student safety, it’s never a good idea to jump the gun.
Scott Briggs is a Trinity senior and the editorial page editor. His biweekly column is part of the weekly Editor’s Note feature and runs on alternate Thursdays. Send Scott a message on Twitter @SBriggsChron.