According to the Jeanne Clery Campus Security Act Report released on Sept. 24, Vassar experienced a substantial reduction in almost all areas of criminal activity since 2012, with the notable exception of sexual offenses. The statistics, while not entirely reflective of crime on campus due to underreporting, were collected and released to the public by federal mandate. The data released to the student body, tracking both federal offenses and college disciplinary committee’s adjudications, also shows that in recent years, Vassar has experienced generally more criminal activity than its peer institutions such as Marist College and the Seven Sisters colleges. Associate Director of Security Kim Squillace believes that the perceived elevation of Vassar’s crime statistics may be reflective of the administrative policies that encourage victims of crime to come forward and report the crime.
These annual reports are compiled and released by the United States Department of Education. In order to remain in compliance with the law, Vassar released its crime statistics one week ahead of the final day for reporting, including both crimes reported directly to the Safety and Security Department as well as those reported to other campus authorities. According to the Safety and Security Department website, “To give a broader picture of crime on campus and its immediate environs, this data also includes crimes committed at campus remote facilities, as well as those occurring near the campus.”
According to reports, no aggravated assaults, murders, manslaughters or hate crimes, as defined by the Clery Act, have been officially reported to the College in the last three years. Vassar defines a hate crime using the uniform crime reporting definition of the Department of Education; as such hate crimes are “crimes involving bodily injury to any person in which the victim is intentionally selected because of the actual or perceived race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability of the victim.” This finding aligns with the reports of almost all other peer institutions, in both Seven Sisters colleges and Marist College; the only college to have reported a hate crime within the last three years was Smith College, which reported one incident of forcible sexual assault as a hate crime based on sexual orientation between 2010 and 2012.
Among the most reported crimes on campus, and one which Vassar reported more of than any of its peer institutions, was arson. According to the federal mandate, arson is “any willful or malicious burning or attempt to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle or aircraft, personal property of another, etc.” In 2010 there was one reported incident of arson, with six the following year. This number increased to 10 in 2012.
In 2012, there were three incidents of arson in both Noyes House and Raymond House, two in Josselyn House, and one in both Davison and Jewett Houses. According to the Department of Education, during this three-year period, neither Marist College nor the remaining Seven Sisters colleges reported a single incident of arson.
Squillace wrote in an emailed statement, “We actually got a call from the Department of Education on that [asking] ‘You really had that many arsons?’ We explained to them that we hold that [definition] true to what it means, and yes, that was a true reflection.”
She continued, “I would like to believe that person has moved on in their life, graduated or whatever. And I’m happy to say that the numbers have gone down significantly.” According to Vassar’s 2013 crime statistics, the number of incidents dropped to two.
Recently, Vassar’s reports on burglary also stand apart from the rates at most, although not all, other colleges. In 2010, there were 10 reported burglaries. The next year there were 18 incidents, all taking place in residence halls. These numbers dropped to three and four thefts in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
This year’s report also marks the first time that three new subsets of crime—domestic violence, dating violence and stalking—have been included. She explained, “Colleges and Universities were asked by the Department of Education to show a good-faith effort, in reporting domestic/dating violence and stalking. We have showed a good-faith effort by adding this information in our statistics for 2013.”
She continued, “This information was not ‘required’ for us to do right now and it was not required on the Department of [Education’s] campus safety survey this year. It will be required next year. Vassar has always been proactive in regarding to reporting requirements.”
The chief difference between Vassar and its counterparts, as well as the area that has seen an increase in reported incidents, is within sexual offenses. While the College has reported no non-forcible sexual offenses, the number of reported forcible sexual offenses has tripled in the last four years. There were six reported forcible sexual encounters in 2010 and 18 in 2013. By comparison, between 2010 and 2012 Marist College reported four forcible sexual offenses, with Smith College reporting a total of 12 within a three-year period. Other colleges reported significantly fewer.
While the numbers clearly set Vassar apart in regards to reported crimes, the College insists that these differences must be placed within an appropriate context and do not reflect a lack of administrative action.
Squillace explained, “If you look at other colleges, our statistics might seem high to some people. The reason our numbers are what they are is because we have such great resources on campus so students feel comfortable coming forward and saying ‘This happened to me and it’s not OK.’”
Dean of the College Christopher Roellke echoed this sentiment. He explained in an emailed statement, “Research shows that sexual offenses are universally underreported, so fewer reports at a college are not necessarily reflective of fewer offenses happening there. In fact beginning in 2010 Vassar expanded its commitment to sexual assault prevention and education, and it wouldn’t surprise us that this heightened effort has contributed to more reports of incidents here.”
While there is no conclusive evidence that administrative policies have influenced this shift, Dean Roellke pointed to specific actions taken by the administration that he believes could be responsible for it. Dean Roellke noted that the 2010 establishment of a full-time Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Coordination position has contributed to increased education on bystander actions and safety in order to provide safe methods of intervening to prevent sexual violence.
Dean Roellke also noted, “Another significant result since 2010 has been increased training to provide confidential support for students who need to report a sexual offense. This further training has not only included our student affairs staff, but we’ve also extended efforts to train faculty and other employees who work closely with students.”
Dean Roellke explained, “One should not conclude that an increase in reporting reflects a less safe campus.”