Students at Tulane University say the uptown New Orleans neighborhood that cradles their campus has become so treacherous a gauntlet of violent crime that they're afraid to travel to and from school and are calling on university president Scott Cowen to devote more resources to ensuring their off-campus safety. Some, like Vice President of Student Organizations Sam Stone in his letter to the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, have even claimed that off-campus crime is only getting worse, that "aggravated burglary at night" and "daytime armed carjackings" have escalated to the "forcible rape" of female students in the off-campus area around Tulane. But, in a city that had the highest murder rate per capita in 2010, where, for every 100,000 residents, 262 are assaulted with a gun, should New Orleans police prioritize crimes in the university neighborhoods, and how much can the university itself do to protect students who choose to commute from off-campus residences?
According to a Times-Picayune article, robberies and armed robberies have spiked in the area around Tulane by nearly 75 percent and Tulane students, along with their neighbors at Loyola University, are calling for school officials to do more to prevent crime, including off-campus patrols, better communication between campus police and students, and, though it probably won't engender much sympathy for their cause beyond the university community, a decreased emphasis on minor student offenses such as underage drinking. In addition to a 1,200-signature petition urging President Cowen to increase campus security, 21-year-old Clare Austen-Smith has started "It's Not Enough, a Wordpress site that tracks both the increased crime in the area around Tulane and the student effort to engage with campus administrators and city officials over the issue of student safety. Along with news clips of off-campus crime, "It's Not Enough" includes an eponymous video that looks like a hybrid of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer and a Gardasil commercial, featuring students relating mostly anecdotal, second-hand experiences with crime in their neighborhoods. Austen-Smith says that she began the site after hearing stories of off-campus assault from her friends, including one women who woke to find a strange man standing over her bed, and explains of the the student-led call for increased security,
We're fed up with living in this atmosphere of fear where you can't walk two blocks home because someone will jump out of the bushes and rob you, or even worse, rape you.
Student letters posted on the Wordpress site highlight the claim that women have been especially targeted as victims of sexual assault and cite a growing threat of rape as one of the key catalysts behind this new call for off-campus protection. In addition to the 14 robberies that occurred off-campus last semester, 2 women (unaffiliated with the university) were raped just blocks from the school early this year, sending tremors through the student community. Though robberies and armed assault account for most of the off-campus crimes against students, those such as Matthew Nagelberg, whom Austen-Smith's site describes as an "impassioned supporter" of the "It's Not Enough" organization, employ sexual assault as something like an exclamation to punctuate calls for increased student protection. After insisting that students should expect the 44-unit campus police to provide more safety because, "We [the students] pay their salaries," he concludes that Tulane students are under siege from outsiders who are systematically victimizing them:
Besides, you know who the greatest threat to residents of the 9th ward is? Residents of the 9th ward. Who's the greatest threat to university-area uptown? Anyone not from university-area uptown. You think it's offensive to the rest of the city that we want our personal army to step their shit up? Well I think it's very fucking offensive that the rest of the city can wander over here and assault our students and neighbors. Take the liberal guilt down a notch, our folks are getting raped and such.
Another post on "It's Not Enough" points to Tulane's status as the 11th-most expensive school in the country, asking, "Does a total annual expense of $57,933 add up to widespread rape, robbery, and fear?" and though no one — no matter his or her social status — should live in an environment where physical violence is a constant reality rather than an unfortunate phenomenon, paying exorbitant tuition does not shield students from the darker realities of the city in which they've chosen to attend school. Nor does touting such privilege entitle them to special attention from city law enforcement, especially given that despite the recent uptick in armed robbery and assault, Loyola Police Chief Patrick Bailey claims that the university area still does not suffer the same sustained high rate of violent crime that plagues other parts (see the Treme) of the city. A glance at the handily illustrated city crime map confirms Bailey's claim that, relative to other neighborhoods, the uptown university area is relatively safe. Despite student demands for campus security to cast a wider into off-campus neighborhoods and pleas for increased attention from the city's beleaguered law enforcement officials, the reality is that, in a city where the murder rate in 2010 was 51 per 100,000 residents - 10 times the national average and five times larger than other similar-size cities — no homicides have been reported in the university area and since August 25, 2011 and only 7% of sex crimes reported to New Orleans police have occurred within a mile of Tulane. Moreover, according to the American Bar, African American women become victims of sexual assault at a rate 35% higher rate than white women, a statistic that becomes especially relevant when considering the demographic disparity between Tulane and the rest of New Orleans and evaluating the purported unique vulnerability of female students.
The cultural and economic rifts that divide much of Tulane's student body from huge swaths of the surrounding neighborhood couldn't be bigger, and while no one is to blame for his or her own victimization, the fact is that urban areas are dangerous places, few more dangerous than New Orleans is right now. Students at Tulane and Loyola — both well-endowed, private universities — have every right to demand safety from university administrators and campus police, but it's unclear what steps the schools can take, beyond arming prospective students and incoming freshman with accurate crime statistics (which, by the way, it logs on the campus police website). Tulane is a school perpetually at odds with its environment, much like the University of Pennsylvania is with West Philadelphia or Yale with New Haven — they are islands of affluent students within some of the poorest, most violent urban areas in the country. Demographically, students are the social inverse of many of the neighboring residents. Tulane's 2011 freshman class is 72% white and 86% out-of-state, while New Orleans, famously dubbed "the Chocolate City" by infamous Katrina-era mayor Ray Nagin, is 67.3% African American. Though parts of the area around Tulane are among the city's wealthiest (and whitest), neighborhood boundaries in New Orleans are uniquely permeable and an avenue of sprawling mansions can quickly give way to an alley cluttered with shotgun houses. Before they were vacated and razed in 2008, the Magnolia Projects, one of the most dangerous housing projects in the country, were only a five-minute car ride from Tulane.
Students like Jacob Tupper, who was mugged and pistol-whipped while walking with two friends a few blocks from campus, have refused to sign the "It's Not Enough" petition, recognizing the extreme cultural dissonance extant between the university much of the surrounding area:
I had no fear of the (armed robbers) actually shooting me or my friends. I really just saw it as a crime of social opportunity. The people who mugged us would never have an opportunity to attend a school like Tulane, so they're seizing their opportunity of pretty easy targets: rich, white, drunk kids walking the streets.
That students can be walking ATMs for opportunistic criminals does not legitimize their victimization, but it does point to the disparity between the university and city communities. Though "It's Not Enough" brings a discussion of sexual assault out into the open, student calls for increased security are merely a few more voices in the chorus of embattled New Orleans citizens, many of who live in areas where violent crime menaces more than just their nighttime trip to the bar. Getting more security by invoking rape, however real the danger to students may be, is not the exclusive privilege of affluent college students who suddenly find that the bubble around their recreational existence has been popped in a city overwhelmed by crime. Giving voice to the apathy with which residents of other New Orleans communities greet the demands of university students for more safety, one critic of the "It's Not Enough video comments on NOLA Defender's site, "Yeah, I don't feel safe after dark in the freakin' Marigny. Do you think Tulane can do something about that, too? What. Ever."
In the spirit of full disclosure, I ought to mention that I went to Tulane from 2004-2008 and lived in New Orleans until December of 2010.
Crime Still Dogs New Orleans [USA Today]
Map of New Orleans Crime [City of New Orleans]
Update: Since this article was posted, Clare Austen-Smith issued a response pointing out a few things that should be corrected and clarified. Though the nola.com article I cited only specifically mentions Clare Austen-Smith as the principle organizer of "It's Not Enough," she in fact started the organization with the help of Eliza Arnold, Lula Fotis, and Elena Pueraro, who all deserve credit for the work they've done. The omission was my mistake and I apologize. She also writes, "Additionally, our campaign is not calling for more attention by NOPD or hiring increases by TUPD. In our petition, one of our top goals is to simply have more foot and bike patrols, rather than what the author of the Jezebel article supposes." I had "supposed" that students were calling for, in addition to more foot and bike patrols, supplemental patrols from the city police based on the following passage from a letter to the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune that was posted on the "It's Not Enough" site:
While the Tulane University Police Department has done all it can do to protect Tulanians and the community around thus far, it is not enough. It is time for Mayor Landrieu, the City Council, and NOPD to step up to the plate. As Mayor Landrieu said, "Change will not just come from the top down on this one [crime]," but it would sure be nice if the elected officials in this city and NOPD seriously start addressing and attempting to prevent violent crime in the Uptown area.
Though this letter remains on the site, its opinions belong exclusively to its author and are not representative of either the student government or the petition.
The comments made by Matteo Nagelberg have since been removed from the site altogether.