Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Law and Order Remixed

Published on The Cornell Daily Sun (
Law and Order Remixed
Created Nov 28 2007 - 12:01am

The Ivy League has historically symbolized the pinnacle of academic discourse and intellectual curiosity.

But if you’ve scanned the Ivy dailies or chatted with friends from other schools over Thanksgiving Break, you might have noticed that everyday life at least one member of the Elite Eight is starting to look more and more like an episode of Law and Order: SVU.

The University of Pennsylvania community has long endured a tidal wave of robberies, shootings, thefts and even murder. On Monday, the school received national media attention when tenured economics professor Rafael Robb pleaded guilty to manslaughter for bludgeoning his wife to death last Christmas and trying to cover it up as a robbery. As if that wasn’t enough, on Saturday night, gunshots rang out at a club located just blocks away from the Penn campus gates.

Columbia University has also seen its fair share of violence during the past year. Earlier this fall, four students were robbed at knifepoint while walking near Riverside Park. Additionally, this past April, a man was apprehended after raping and torturing a Columbia journalism student at her off-campus apartment.

As much as Cornellians complain about Ithaca, the truth is that our rural location gives us a sense of security to walk around late at night. According to the Clery Report, an annual publication with current crime statistics at colleges and universities, between 2004 to 2006, 151 accounts of burglary were reported on and off Cornell’s campus. At Penn, the reported figure was 221. While Dartmouth — a school with a comparable location to Cornell — reported 38 accounts of sexual offenses and aggravated assaults on and off-campus during the same time period, Cornell reported 24.

Cornell students are fortunate to be surrounded by more Blue Light phones than intimidating security guards with florescent vests. However, the threat of serious acts of violence is still ever-present, which is one reason why the University Assembly unanimously supported revising the Campus Code of Conduct in mid-November to extend the powers of the J.A. to serious off-campus offenses.

It is imperative for the University to protect its students. But it’s also detrimental to spend years deliberating the Code when time and resources can be put towards other ways of keeping campus safe. Rather than expending its energy on punitive measures once crimes have already been committed, Cornell could better serve its students by trying to prevent such acts in the first place. Strengthening the power of the J.A. to punish students will not create a safer campus environment — it will only widen the gap between undergraduates and administrators.

As Cornell continues to think about the best ways of keeping campus safe, it must recognize that criminality is different here than at its peer schools in West Philadelphia and Morningside Heights. Focusing on punitive rather than preventative measures is not the right approach to addressing crime at Cornell.

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