Recent assaults on campus raise questions about safety
It seems nowadays that everywhere you look on campus, there’s a reason to be concerned.
First, a woman is sexually assaulted on the Portland State campus by two strangers. The Campus Public Safety Office acknowledge the crime as a rarity, and while the student population is a little concerned, it trusts the school’s judgment and counts itself as safe.
Then it happens again. A woman stopping in the Academic and Student Rec Center to use the restroom finds herself face-to-face with a man intent on assaulting her. She escapes, and the man is eventually found and arrested. Again, students worry, but CPSO assures them that it was yet another unusual event.
Then news breaks of a woman being inappropriately touched on campus. CPSO calls a meeting to reassure students that Portland State is still a safe campus. As long as students are vigilant and exercise caution, they ought to be safe.
Hours later, another person is assaulted just outside the Campus Public Safety Office. The assault is described as “brief,” and CPSO notes that they only became aware of it the next morning. The email they sent out had students scrambling for answers: In light of all the assaults happening on campus, can students really count PSU as safe?
The short answer is yes—compared to other universities, anyway.
The fact is that PSU is an urban university, and it isn’t exactly isolated from Portland at large. The campus is integrated with downtown Portland. It’s hard at times to figure out where PSU ends and Portland proper begins.
University buildings co-mingle with independent businesses, bars, office buildings and other such non-academic settings. And that the campus houses a major transit center—MAX lines, street car and bus lines, all routed through the Urban Plaza and scattered around campus—the school can hardly be considered a closed campus.
Many students forget this. So when events such as these makes headlines, the realization that the campus is not as protected as they think can be jarring.
Stacie Loonie, a senior studying German at PSU, mostly feels safe in Portland during the day, but certainly not 24/7. “At night, it gets a little more iffy,” Loonie said. “All these attacks have taught me to pay attention more while outside alone.”
Some students have been quick to point out that some other universities have fewer reported crimes, which is true. Just this year, PSU has seen more crime than many smaller universities. However, when the data is analyzed, the ratio of crimes to students is actually fairly low compared to other urban colleges and universities.
In fact, many of the crimes reported on the PSU campus were not perpetrated against students. Often, they occurred when school was not in session or after classes were over for the day. The average student on campus during the day faces few threats.
Those who do worry aren’t always sure what to do about it. CPSO has been rather vague about it; their advice has largely centered on remaining vigilant and reporting suspicious behavior. But this does nothing to teach students how to stay safe beyond reinforcing common sense.
“I think we need to have more seminars about self defense and what to do if confronted with this kind of situation,” Loonie said. “We keep getting emails, but how many people read those? Letting us know what happened is great, but telling us how to protect ourselves is better.”
Loonie also suggested posting the numbers for CPSO more widely, which could be a good solution. At the very least, it might help more students to feel comfortable calling them and taking advantage of the assistance they offer, such as officer escorts.
CPSO is correct in advising students that they are in no more danger on campus than they would be anywhere else in the city, and it’s true that exercising caution is the best way to avoid getting in trouble. Students are ultimately the ones responsible for their own safety, and they can do a lot to protect themselves.
Taking a self defense class is one such way of protecting one’s self. PSU generally offers a one-credit self defense class per term. The Women’s Resource Center also has resources available for students who wish to learn ways to keep safe. And despite how daunting it can be to ask for help, the CPSO at PSU is happy to do so if someone needs it.
“There are dangers living in any city,” Loonie said. “Portland is a city. People seem to forget that. Students shouldn’t worry about being safe at school, so long as they understand that there are risks to begin with. Just be smart.”
For those worried about their safety, CPSO officers are available round the clock.