It's part of human nature to seek shelter -- to yearn for safe surroundings. Sure, we take precautions: We buckle our seatbelts. We lock our doors. But even then, we preserve our mental well being by refusing to dwell on the reasons we take those precautions in the first place.
"Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary in learning," President Bush said after the homicidal rampage that left more than 30 people dead at Virginia Tech. "When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community."
So as we pray for strength for the families who have lost loved ones, we have to ask: After the coffins are lowered and the orations read, what then? Will our need to move on, to ignore the reasons that we take precautions, get the better of us again? Or will we take some steps now that may forestall the next tragedy?
No, I'm not talking about some unconstitutional gun-control program that leaves innocent Americans defenseless, and I'm not talking about an unworkable, invasive government program. I'm referring to something that will keep students and their parents better informed about the level of safety on a particular campus.
Information, as they say, is power. To pick the right college, you and your child need to know more than just how prestigious its list of alumni is and how many victories the basketball team has notched. You need to know how safe it is.
Parents, we need to realize that universities today aren't the peaceful havens we may remember from our youth. You trust the smiling faces on the brochures at your peril. Do yourself and your college-bound children a favor: Visit the Web site of a terrific group called Security on Campus, Inc., and get the whole campus picture.
There you can access crime data for specific schools -- information you can hardly expect your friendly tour guide to volunteer while you're strolling the grounds.
Let's face it: No campus is immune, but some are worse than others. Some colleges may have an extremely high number of robberies and vandalism. Others may have repeated incidents of rape and assault. Such data is available from two major sources, the Department of Education, which collects statistics from more than 6,000 schools, and the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program, which includes data for about 400 schools. Both sets of data can be accessed through www.SecurityonCampus.org.
"The 17-to-22-year-old age group is the highest-victimized group in society -- and they're also the largest group of perpetrators," Bill Whitman, director of public safety at Lake Superior State University in Michigan, recently told the Detroit Free Press.
According to Security on Campus:
"Surveys by rape crisis centers have concluded that rape and sexual assault are commonplace on many campuses. One in ten women will be raped during their years in college. Studies have revealed that 80% of crime is student on student. Alcohol is involved in 90% of college crime. Date Rape Drugs are creating thousands of victims."
Indeed, it was this kind of student-on-student crime that led to the founding of Security on Campus. Connie and Howard Cleary launched the group after a brutal act took the life of their daughter Jeanne, a student at Lehigh University.
On April 5, 1986, Jeanne was attacked in her sleep -- in her own dorm room. She was tortured, raped, sodomized and murdered by a lowlife creep, a fellow student Jeanne had never met. A drug and alcohol abuser, the animal gained access to her room by going through three propped-open doors.
It was only after their daughter was so cruelly taken from them that the Clearys learned how widespread campus crime is. So Security on Campus was born. Now, thanks to their efforts, many universities must record and make available crime data about their campuses. Security on Campus also conducts seminars nationwide, in conjunction with the Justice Department, that teach people about campus crime and how to prevent it.
No, this isn't a panacea. Such information won't stop all heinous crimes from occurring. Virginia Tech doesn't have a horrible crime rate -- yet the worst mass murder in U.S. history took place on its lovely campus. If a crazed psycho wants to murder an innocent person, that crazed psycho may well succeed, no matter what precautions we take. Ours is a dangerous, unpredictable world.
But we need to use information to protect our loved ones whenever possible. Every parent with a college-bound student should take advantage of public information regarding the level and nature of crimes in the institutions to which we entrust our sons and daughters.
Jeanne Cleary did not die in vain. Her wonderful parents have given their time, talents, hearts, sorrow and resources to make college campuses safer for all of America's children, and to help all parents make informed decisions. I urge you to share the Web site of Security on Campus with everyone you know. The service is free -- but it's worth more than gold.