College Crime Stats Highlight Varied Approaches To Campus Safety

Oct 4, 2016

New campus safety data released Oct. 1 shows that the number of reported sexual assaults at Middlebury more than doubled from 2014 to 2015, while the University of Vermont and Dartmouth College both saw decreases in reported sexual assaults.

The data also shows that the University of Vermont seems to be making progress in reducing risky student behavior with alcohol, which school officials say is helping to bring down other crimes as well.

This round-up of campus safety data examines the numbers from UVM, St. Michael’s College, Champlain College, Norwich University, Middlebury College and Dartmouth College. All colleges and universities are required to publish campus crime statistics by Oct. 1 for the prior year’s data under the Clery Act.

Increased sexual assault reports at Middlebury

At Middlebury, there were 21 reported rapes in 2015, according to the new data, compared to nine in 2014. College officials say four of those reports were for incidents that occurred in past years but were brought to school officials for the first time in 2015.

Bill Burger, Middlebury’s vice president for communications, said the increase could be evidence that the school’s efforts to support sexual assault survivors are working.

“At one level, we are making incredible efforts to encourage people to come forth and report incidents of sexual assault in any form that that might take,” he said. “We know from a variety of national surveys that sexual assault is an underreported crime on college campuses … and so as a result of this encouragement and the setting up of programs that we have, in some ways you might expect to see that number rise.”

Burger said there’s “no indication” that sexual assault on campuses nationally was on the rise in 2015, so he hopes Middlebury’s increase was due to increased reporting. But he admits that it’s hard to say for sure.

“This is a frustrating kind of crime to track, because it’s so underreported in general, that it’s just very difficult to know what’s actually happening,” he said.

Credit Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR

The number of reported rapes at both UVM and Dartmouth went down from 2014 to 2015, and officials at those schools also attribute the changes to policy changes.

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire had 20 rapes reported in 2015 – a decline from 48 reports in 2014.

Heather Lindkvist, the Title IX coordinator and Clery Act compliance officer at Dartmouth, said the decrease may be the result of a better outreach and education for students about the support services available on campus.

Some of those services are confidential, and Lindkvist says any sexual assaults disclosed in that confidential setting do not make their way into the statistics. Other services are “private” but not confidential, Lindkvist says, and sexual assaults disclosed in a “private” setting must be reported.

“As private resources understand how to respond to disclosures before it actually happens, they’re referring students in particular to the confidential resources,” she says.

One such resource, she said, is a counselor who specializes in addressing trauma.

Credit Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR

UVM alcohol violations fall; Middlebury underreported for years

At the University of Vermont, Dean of Students Annie Stevens said two years of decline in the number of alcohol violations are the result of a concerted effort by university officials. UVM reported 675 alcohol violations in 2015, compared to 715 in 2014 and 1,290 in 2013.

“A lot of this was kicked off by the president creating a President’s Committee on Alcohol and Other Drugs in 2014,” she said. “We started just before that, but the committee was able to take a lot of data that we had and put in place several initiatives.”

Stevens said UVM changed its student conduct process so that school officials talk to students about violations sooner after they occur, and she said the school changed sanctions and fines related to alcohol on campus.

She said that approach – a focus on education and prevention with alcohol and drugs – is one explanation for UVM’s decline in reported rapes.

“If we can tackle those [drugs and alcohol] and get those numbers to continually come down, then it really helps the rest of those [crime] numbers come down as well," Stevens says. "I mean, it really impacts sexual assault or any of the sexual misconduct that we see, since we know alcohol is often involved in those numbers. Assaults – they really are more second-hand impacts of some of the alcohol and drug use, so our approach has been to really create a system that can really bring down the alcohol and drug use numbers so the other incidents also decrease.”

Middlebury College’s data says that school went from 64 alcohol violations in 2014 to 356 violations in 2015, but college officials were quick to point out that the increase wasn’t the result of a surge in booze on campus. In a post on the college’s website, Middlebury explained that “[i]n previous years, Middlebury counted only disciplinary actions that were triggered after a student’s third or subsequent violation.”

"In the past we had only counted those incidents that had triggered the actual college discipline process. So we broadened the definition of what we counted to include really any incident." - Bill Burger, Middlebury College

Middlebury’s vice president for communications, Bill Burger, said the change came from a re-reading of the Clery Act, the federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose crime statistics.

“Our past way of reporting these numbers was probably not the best way,” Burger said, adding that Middlebury’s director of public safety, advised a change.

“She recommended that we follow a different approach, and by that I mean counting every single student alcohol incident … that might have had some kind of referral to perhaps a commons dean or some administrative function. In the past, we had only counted those incidents that had triggered the actual college discipline process. So we broadened the definition of what we counted to include really any incident.”

Burger said the federal government’s guidance on how to report alcohol violations isn’t clear.

“It’s not as clear as you might think,” he said. “In fact, when you look at how different institutions in different states count this, you see tremendous variability around this issue.”

Burger said that inconsistency means it’s not helpful to compare the crime data between different colleges and universities.