July 28, 2010

Six-campus study examines student views on safety

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Campus shootings in recent years have been shocking and high-profile news, but, according to a recent study by three Southern Illinois University Carbondale scholars in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, many Illinois college students are not particularly worried about encountering a shooter on campus.

George W. Burruss, Matthew J. Giblin and Joseph A. Schafer surveyed more than 5,000 students on six Illinois college and university campuses during the 2009-2010 academic year to discover their attitudes toward on-campus crime, including their perceptions of risk and personal safety, personal experiences, and understanding of campus safety measures.

The study, titled, “Perceptions of Campus Safety Initiatives: Assessing Views of Critical Incident Prevention and Response,” followed a similar study undertaken by the three in the wake of 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Research for that project was already under way when the Northern Illinois University shootings took place in February 2008. The study focused on local and campus law enforcement, Burruss said. This second study focuses on students and campus life. Researchers included students at three state universities, a community college and two private universities.

In the survey, students reported little fear of crime during the day, with the highest reported level of concern focused on possible theft of electronic items or wallets and purses. The survey indicated that students have a higher fear of crime at night than during the day. Students generally reported increased fear of property crime at night. Students also indicated they were more concerned about such crimes as mugging and sexual assault at night than during the day. However, their fear of being “shot at in classroom” changed very little from night to day, and in neither case was it a high concern.

Other findings suggest that students do not favor allowing concealed carry of firearms on campus, particularly not by fellow students. The study also suggests that students are in favor of campus counseling staff sharing concerns about specific students with campus public safety personnel, and indicated that students believe both they and faculty have “a responsibility to report dangerous students.” Overall, students reported satisfaction with campus public safety organizations at the six campuses included in the survey.

“One of the things we noticed was how much similarity there is across different campuses,” Burruss said. However, factors that predict perceptions of safety and risk seem to be, at least to some degree, location-specific.

Burruss said the immediate practical applications of this study suggest reinforcing public safety training, particularly emergency procedures, with students.

“Students know there are safety plans in place, but they don’t really know what they are,” he said. He noted that some universities, including SIUC, include public safety components during orientation.

Todd Sigler, director of public safety at SIUC, noted that public safety training, especially but not limited to students, is “an ongoing effort that must be addressed every year in large part because of turnover.” In an effort to promote awareness at SIUC, the Department of Public Safety posts Emergency Response Guides at various sites on campus, and keeps information on its website at www.dps.siu.edu/.

SIUC was not necessarily part of the survey base for this research.

Burruss, speaking for all three of the scholars involved in the project, thanked the graduate students who assisted in the research, as well as the students who participated in the surveys and the colleges and universities that allowed the researchers access to the students.

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority funded this research. The ICJIA, a state agency, administers grants, develops criminal justice policies and publishes research studies relevant to criminal justice.

The entire report on “Assessing Views of Critical Incident Preparedness and Response” is available online at: http://www.icjia.state.il.us/public/index.cfm?metaSection=Publications&metapage=campuscrimehome