According to the 2017 Annual Fire Safety and Security Report, last year resulted in the highest reported Violence Against Women Act offences since 2012, 19, and the first act of arson since 2012. Oppositely, larceny is the lowest since 2012, 36, as is burglary, 2.
The report, which Public Safety released on Sept. 29, details campus safety policies and crime statistics for the previous year, as required by the 1990 Clery Act. The act requires all colleges that participate in federal aid programs to publicly report such information annually.
The total reported VAWA offenses is largely due to the incidents of reported dating violence rising from six in 2015 to 15 in 2016, the highest number since 2012. Several administration members spoke about what work should be done going forward.
“I don’t think we will rest until the number is zero in these reports and until we have a college campus where everyone can thrive and live without harm,” Women’s Resource Center Supervisor Shá Duncan Smith said.
Interim Title IX Coordinator Michelle D. Ray added that the Title IX office will continue to work diligently to support the Swarthmore community to stop, remedy, and prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence.
“Our policies are reviewed every year based on student, faculty, and staff feedback, and of course we also look very closely at what is shared with us by those who are most directly impacted,” she said in an email.
Neither commented on the spike in dating violence or mentioned potential policy changes in response to the numbers.
“We often see Swarthmore as an exception to a lot of these negative trends,” Lamia Makkar ’21 said. “Obviously these numbers aren’t to the same degree as a lot of other colleges, but this trend should be known and more actions should be taken.”
The decreased number of larceny and thefts, Hill said, can be attributed to a variety of things, such as students and community members reporting suspicious activity, securing personal valuables, and the implementation of technology tools on campus.
The college also reported 24 liquor law arrests — 18 of which were in residential facilities — and 33 alcohol violations. As a partial explanation for the numbers, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill outlined the liquor law arrest policy on campus.
“If someone calls for a friend and PubSafe determines the student is in need of medical evaluation and/or assistance, typically an ambulance will transport them to the hospital,” he said. “If the transported student is under the legal age of consumption, they can receive an underage drinking citation.”
According to Hill, after two court visits and several hours of community service and drug and alcohol education, first time offenders can erase the citation from their record.
Several community members see the policy as problematic.
Class Senator Akshay Srinivasan ’21 said the potential of getting a friend getting arrested could act as a deterrent to bystanders.
“Students would be less likely to report their friend being drunk because they would think their friend might be charged, but I don’t see a legal way out of it,” he said.
Vitor Dos Anjos ’21 said the problem isn’t with the school, but with the law.
“I think the problem is that the city of Swarthmore has the policy of immediately getting the police involved as soon as an ambulance is called,” he said. “If the ambulance is called and the person needs help, then the ambulance automatically breaks that person’s privacy rights by getting the police involved.”
Other schools had a dramatically discrepancies between alcohol arrests and violations: Williams reported four arrests and 343 violations; Middlebury one and 597, respectively. Hill did not comment directly on the comparison except for that every college is unique and has its own dynamics.
“It is difficult to address another institution’s statistics without knowledge of their institutional culture, policies, procedures, and the response and protocols from local law enforcement,” he said.
Both Hill and alcohol and other drugs counselor and educator Joshua Ellow called for a change in the school’s culture regarding alcohol.
“Going out with the intention of getting wrecked can contribute to these numbers, but more importantly [it can] put community members at risk,” Ellow said. “Accidents do happen, but risk is directly related to the strength of our drinks (i.e., hard alcohol vs. light beer) and the pace at which we consume.”
Hill stressed that safety is our shared responsibility, and the college will continue to hold conversations to educate and raise awareness about alcohol and drug-related issues.
“Within a small segment of our community, alcohol abuse is tolerated, and there is a lack of accountability to one another and for each other’s safety and actions,” he said. “In many instances by the time Public Safety is called, an individual is already in physical distress. There needs to be a larger conversation about the culture of AOD use and abuse.”
Several administration members said students are getting more comfortable with reaching out to Public Safety for help, although they did not attribute that fact to the high number of liquor law arrests or dating violence incidents.
“I think that our medical amnesty policy has led to more students calling for assistance when AOD problems arise. I see this as a result of our policy and the goal of getting students help in an emergency or risky situation,” Ellow said.
Hill added that although it would be better if individuals drank responsibly to begin with, he is impressed with the increasing number of students who have been willing to call in for help for a friend or even themselves for earlier intervention.
Ray said that’s what she had wished.
“We hope that students have felt more empowered to speak up, that systems of reporting have become clearer, and additional trained personnel have helped make students feel freer to report.”
Although the numbers reported in the Clery Act are important to look over, they don’t always tell the complete story, according to Jonny Guider ’21. For example, he said, the stats could be a result of community members reporting more openly or a recent change in policy.
“The overall trends signify more than individual numbers,” he said.