Bias and Behavior

“Students from high-income families are considerably more likely than students from low income families to earn a college degree.”  So says a Higher Education Equity report. That’s not my bias, but an incontrovertible fact.  My bias is that crime and other plaguing challenges that exist on university campuses are impacted by the academic abilities of students. The bald bias: Smart students, no crime. Wrong.  Students of privilege are more likely to earn a degree but may not differ appreciably when it comes to college criminality.  Here are five additional areas of prejudice.

Bias One: Alcohol abuse has changed dramatically over the past 30 or 40 years on university campuses, and students more regularly abuse alcohol than they ever have. If you share that bias with me we are both wrong. While it is clearly a serious problem today, it was in 1953 also according to a classic study, one possibly never equaled, Drinking in College.   What has changed markedly is media reporting on the subject, and general concern of parents and the public. This is not to imply that those concerns are unfounded, but the incidence and impact of college-age binge drinking are more highly reported than ever.  During the 90’s, reports of binge drinking went up over 100 fold.  Is underage drinking a problem?  You better believe it.

Bias Two:  Campuses are unsafe places to be.  Not according to the National Center for Education Statistics and a study of the incidence of offenses by the roughly 15 million students on college campuses compared to the general population.  Murders occur in the general population at 45 times the rate that they occur on college campuses. Robbery and aggravated assaults are well over 10 times, while “forcible rape/sexual assault” (see below), occurs at three times the rate in the general population compared to college campuses.  Shouldn’t be concerned?  No, you absolutely should be.

Bias Three:  College location has a significant impact on campus crime levels.  Little reality found here. Rural campuses are judged to be unsafe almost as frequently as urban campuses.  According to Business Insider, some reportedly unsafe campuses are located in small “college” towns.  An illustrative example, Western Illinois University makes this frightening list and Macomb, Illinois is rural. Likewise MIT makes the list, and it is in the major metropolitan area of Boston, the biggest “college” town in the nation.  The danger in taking this list too seriously is that crime occurrences are often self-reported. Western Illinois University may be straightforward and strident in reporting crime, while some other institutions may take a more lax, less aggressive perspective. My home institution shows up yet data demonstrate that many crimes are committed by non-students at off campus locations. The boundaries are difficult to define. Location, Location, Location?  Not so simple.

Bias Four: College students are less likely than their less educated peers to commit “property crimes.”  Surprisingly, based on my biases and probably yours too, this is not true.  The American Sociological Association published a report that suggests that college students participate in property crimes more frequently than their non-student (undereducated — another bias) counterparts. Should I lock my car or bike on campus? Yes, and check it twice.

Bias Five: Men are the perpetrators of sexual assault 90% of the time.  The Center for Disease Control’s definitions of rape and sexual assault create confounding distortions when the claim is made that one in five women in the US have been raped.  Cathy Young, writing in Time, provides a different perspective.  Seemingly precise definitions may exaggerate what occurs in some cases and should give pause to any thoughtful observer.  Such mincing, parsing, and fiddling with words create believability regarding a Glenn Reynolds column in USA Today to suggest that women perpetuate sexual assault at higher rates than assumed by most. “In short, men are raped by women at nearly the same rate women are raped by men. according to Reynolds.  Watch yourself and those you are with — male or female.

What to do?

Without Bias:  Know you are vulnerable; lock the place you live and what you drive or ride; don’t go out alone at night; even or especially on campus, be in a group of two, three is even better; don’t ever bring someone to where you live if you have only known him/her for 2 hours; don’t get drunk or use drugs; hang onto your computer in the library; if you see somebody who looks suspicious or who seems not to belong, tell somebody else, maybe a cop if you are unsettled; and never under any circumstance think that because you are at a university, or around college students, or in a rural community, that you can relax about personal safety.

In 2009, 47,357 crimes were reported on campus nationally and professionals estimate only half of all crimes are reported.  That means there were 71,035 victims that year of everything from arson to sexual assault:  There were 20,966,826 students.  Victims? Less than 1%.

If you, your friend, daughter or son is the 1% it’s an experience not a statistic.

Sorry to dispel a myth but human nature is what it is, and it is too frequently disappointing.

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