Crime Worries Rise on Campus

Apr. 2--Laura Dickinson was like a lot of college students -- sweet, trusting, kind. Her friend Jamie Fix certainly never thought Dickinson could die in her Hill Hall dorm room at the hands of another Eastern Michigan University student, as police have charged.

"I miss her so much," said Fix, an education major from Newport who was on the novice rowing team with Dickinson before she was killed in December. On Friday, a Ypsilanti judge ordered an EMU student, Orange Taylor III, 20, of Southfield, to stand trial on open murder and two first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in connection with Dickinson's death.

The case has many students and parents taking a closer look at safety on college and university campuses, an issue of particular importance for the thousands of students currently making decisions about where to enroll.

Some may not weigh the issue of campus safety when they make those choices. But officials at Security on Campus, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization that advocates for accurate crime reporting and for safer campuses, say Dickinson's slaying shows that they should.

On its Web site -- -- it has a link for parents and students to search a federal database of crime statistics for colleges and universities around the country. Under federal law, any institution where students are eligible to take part in federal financial aid programs must compile annual reports of crimes on campus.

The nature of campuses

S. Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus, said it's difficult to compare campus crime to lawbreaking in the general population. But he said the demographics of college campuses make them a hotbed for certain types of crimes -- including sexual assault and alcohol and drug use.

New students come and go every semester and campuses are chock-full of young adults living on their own and making decisions without their parents' help for the first time.

"The 17-to-22-year-old age group is the highest-victimized group in society -- and they're also the largest group of perpetrators," said Bill Whitman, director of public safety at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie.

One of the biggest problems for campus police is getting students to understand the importance of locking their doors and never walking away from their belongings when they're at the library or dining hall.

At Wayne State University, Lt. Dave Scott said most items are stolen when a student at the library gets up and temporarily leaves behind a purse or laptop.

In February alone, five cars, four cell phones, two campus ID cards, three backpacks, seven laptops, three purses, a passport, four wallets with cash, two digital music players and one set of keys were stolen on campus, he said.

"It's the easiest crime to prevent and the toughest to solve," he said. Scott compiles a monthly crime report that is e-mailed to students, staff, faculty and some neighborhood associations.

Serious situation

When it comes to sexual assault and rape, one of the biggest challenges is underreporting. Many victims of sexual assault don't come forward. Many are too upset or fear being blamed for the attack.

According to federal numbers, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor had the most reports of forcible sexual assault of any public university in the state in 2005, with 24. Next on the list was Michigan State University, with 14, and EMU was third, with 10 in 2005, the last year for which numbers are available.

Those reports were made not only to campus police but also to counselors and at rape crisis centers. MSU Police Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor points out that if a student tells police about an assault and then also talks to someone at a rape crisis center, the single crime could be counted more than once.

More often, however, sexual assaults are underreported to police. For example, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for

U-M's police department show only one sexual assault on campus in 2005.

Angela Peoples, a junior at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, said awareness is vital. She is chief of operations for the Western Student Association, which has asked campus safety officials about the effectiveness of the blue-light phones placed across campus for emergency use.

Some in the association, she said, aren't convinced the blue light-system works.

She said the group is waiting for a response.

Despite those concerns, Peoples said she still feels safe on campus. In addition to the blue-light system, the public safety department has student employees who patrol regularly. And the university also provides free rides at night to women on campus.

"Students always want to be well-informed and want the administration to be as honest and forthcoming as possible," she said.

The death at Eastern

But the way that EMU handled the release of information in Dickinson's death has been criticized. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether EMU failed to inform students that she'd been sexually assaulted and killed.

Dickinson, who died Dec. 13, was asphyxiated. She was found Dec. 15 on the floor of her dorm room.

When the body was found, EMU officials insisted publicly that there was no foul play involved in her death. Fix said even the members of the rowing team didn't get any answers about what had happened to their friend and teammate.

"All I got were random e-mails," she said. I was really upset."

But about two months later, Taylor was arrested, and news that Dickinson may have been murdered sparked outrage on campus.

Fix said she's much more cautious and has considered changing schools. "My mom actually gave me Mace for my key chain," she said.

Contact KRISTEN JORDAN SHAMUS at 313-222-5997 or . Education writer Lori Higgins contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 2007, Detroit Free Press Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.