Editorial: Safety first

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Upon first learning how to ride a bike, before even grasping the handle bars, a parent securely fastened a helmet around our heads.

“Safety first,” they would say.

The mantra would continue to follow us as we grew older — our first high school party, our first time driving a car, and eventually, our first day at Lehigh.

As all college students do, we came to Lehigh to learn and grow as individuals, to become a part of a larger community and to try new things. As our parents sent us off, they crossed their fingers hoping that after a lifetime of “safety first,” the message would stick, hoping that in between the endless sea of new life experiences, safety will be in the forefront of our minds.

Lehigh has had around 90 reported counts of larceny over the past three years, and the numbers are only continuing to rise. 

Every day, it seems, another student’s off-campus house has been broken into by someone yielding a knife or other weapon. While students continue to be virtually unharmed physically, many students are living in fear of the next break-in.

Although both the Lehigh and Bethlehem Police departments have tended to the various break ins and ensured that students are compensated for what is stolen, the crux of the issue remains unchanged.

Upon every reported break-in, the university sends out an email reminding students of the importance of locking their doors, essentially implying that burglaries only happen when students leave their doors unlocked. While idealistic, off-campus residents have found this not to be true. Instead, these residents find that many of the doors to older homes can be opened strictly by force, even when the doors are locked.

This justifiably leaves students and families questioning — is Lehigh a safe place to go to school?

Off-campus housing is not regulated by the university itself, and as a result, it is not technically Lehigh’s responsibility to provide security to off-campus residents who consist of predominantly seniors and graduate students. But because off-campus living is the primary housing option for a quarter of Lehigh students, it should be the responsibility of the university to ensure generalized, functioning security systems for all student residencies, both off and on campus.

Lehigh students prioritize their own safety, but how greatly does Lehigh prioritize the safety of its students?

As the school continues to delve into projects that hope to improve the university, safety should be at the top of the list.

Students must use their Lehigh University identification cards to get into their respective dorms, but unlike many other schools, Lehigh does not monitor who enters or exits its buildings, which potentially allows non-residents to simply follow a student with an ID inside. Following in the path of many comparable universities, Lehigh should employ trained security guards at the entrance of every dorm building, ensuring that only students, guests and authorized personnel can get inside.

Although there is room to grow, Lehigh has made multiple efforts toward increased safety over the past decade. Since implementing the blue light system, which allows for students in potentially dangerous situations to immediately contact emergency services, Lehigh has also added T.R.A.C.S., a late-night bus service, and most recently Hawk Watch, an app that connects students to safety resources at the touch of a button.

Despite these on-campus efforts, student safety is still a consistent issue. While Lehigh is evidently making an effort to keep students safe, there is undoubtedly more that can be done. As Lehigh continues its Path to Prominence plans and tuition continues to rise, a significant portion of the money raised needs to go to ensuring that every student feels safe living at Lehigh.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy Charles ‘89 on

    South Bethlehem’s a tough place. But you want to bring $300K worth of tuition and a world of flashy consumer goods there and use it as a playground, and you’re surprised and upset when there are break-ins. Your answer: more private cops.

    I lived in Providence for a while, near Brown. Providence is also a tough town, but I watched these rich Connecticut types dropping off their kids on Thayer Street without seeming to notice where they were, or that the place was in fact pretty dangerous. Since their kids had zero street smarts, Brown had these guards posted everywhere on campus and surrounding, and the upshot was this: if you were a black student, you could expect routine trouble, aggressive trouble, from your own school’s cops, especially at night. And if you weren’t a student, just walking in the neighborhood, or a mentally ill guy looking confused up the street outside the Brown bookstore, or maybe hoping to study or read in the library because the public libraries were so poor and dilapidated and noisy that you couldn’t get anything done? You’d learn pretty fast what a heavy hand money has.

    Maybe you’d like Hyde Park in Chicago better. Hyde Park’s about the most heavily policed — private cops and public — square mile in the country; it’s where the University of Chicago is. U of C has a phenomenally large private police force. I lost track of what the school charges, but I think it’s more than Lehigh. They’re surrounded by some desperately poor and violent neighborhoods, and there’s this weird, polite, apartheid-era Johannesburglike fiction about the university community’s goodwill towards the people of these neighborhoods and all the opportunity and understanding they offer, and the only people who aren’t buying it are the literal help, who are almost all black, behind every counter and every register and pushing every broom, and who are absolutely frank about the fact that this is a race war. At every register and every counter etc. It’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to be eighteen years old, some nice suburban kid who’s studied like crazy and is there even though it’s costing her realtor/lawyer parents a giant bundle, getting to the front of the line and facing that kind of reality at the cash register, every day.

    I would submit that if this is what you’re arranging for yourself, you’re doing it wrong.

  2. My name is Alex Torres and I am the Bethlehem Outreach Committee Chair on Student Senate.I was disappointed in the tone of the article when I initially read it. Many of the claims put forth in this editorial are baseless and promote fear mongering. I have found several inconsistencies in the editorial that are detailed below.

    “Lehigh has had around 90 reported counts of larceny over the past three years…”

    After calling LUPD, the information I received is that this particular statistic is a mix of larceny reports on and off campus. LUPD does not publicly disclose off-campus burglary reports that may occur on street such as East Fifth and Hillside. The use of this statistic is misleading and does not differentiate theft in campus locations such as libraries from student rentals off campus.

    “Instead, these residents find that many of the doors to older homes can be opened strictly by force, even when the doors are locked.”

    Many student rentals are old and have old doors. An old, insecure door can make residents feel less safe, and Lehigh is indirectly addressing this issue by funding city building inspectors to inspect student rental properties. If a part of the home doesn’t pass inspection, these lehigh-funded inspectors will ensure the homes are safe.

    “…it should be the responsibility of the university to ensure generalized, functioning security systems for all student residencies, both off and on campus.”

    LUPD and BPD jointly patrol the streets immediately off campus to enhance the safety for students, representing a considerable police force near student housing. Additionally, in this article written by The Brown and White, there are 170 security cameras across campus and South Bethlehem jointly monitored by LUPD and BPD (https://thebrownandwhite.com/2018/04/30/lehigh-police-surveillance-cameras/). Finally, if off-campus students are worried about break ins over break they can register their home with LUPD for extra patrols and monitoring (https://police.lehigh.edu/content/register-campus-residence).

    “Lehigh does not monitor who enters or exits its buildings, which potentially allows non-residents to simply follow a student with an ID inside.”

    As mentioned above, there are 170 security cameras across campus and South Bethlehem, ensuring residence halls are monitored. Also, LUPD does not publish trespassing reports on campus so it is unclear how many unauthorized people are gaining access to residence halls. For an informed decision to be made about undertaking a safety plan under your proposed plan, conjectures should not be included.

    Safety on and off campus are issues that I believe should continue to be tackled. I also agree that Lehigh has an obligation to protect students with what ever means necessary. However, the proposed safety measures detailed in this article disregard many of the initiatives already undertaken. Additionally, I encourage The Brown and White to reach out the Bethlehem Outreach Committee for more information about our relationship with the broader community.

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