Clark Atlanta Students Want Campus Fenced In
Danielle Stubbs enrolled at Clark Atlanta University with higher learning as her top priority, not personal safety.
“When I first came here, I felt safe,” says Stubbs, a 22-year-old junior from the Bahamas. “After experiencing two shootings, I don’t feel comfortable. This school would be a better place if we were guarded better.”
A rash of car thefts, vandalism and shootings around campus, committed almost entirely by people with no ties to the historically Black college, has prompted students like Stubbs to demand that the school do more to protect them. Many want security fences erected around campus.
Some of the most violent crimes have occurred this semester. In January, a man who didn’t attend the college was shot in a barbershop on campus. In March, a student was killed during a shootout while trying to recover her stolen car near the school.
School officials say they have responded by forming a campus watch group with the help of the city’s police and the Atlanta University Center council, which includes neighboring Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse College, Spelman College and the Morehouse School of Medicine.
“Students have been informed that if they’re walking alone, they can call … and have public safety escort them,” says Clark Atlanta spokeswoman Debra Miller. “The Atlanta police along with public safety have been helpful in keeping the campus safe.”
Clark Atlanta’s student government president isn’t satisfied. Rashon Hasan, a 21-year-old senior, has written letters and met with school president Dr. Walter Broadnax to discuss the crime issue.
“If our campus can’t be gated or protected, then I don’t think Dr. Broadnax’s home should be as well,” Hasan says. “I commend our public safety for trying. But we can be protected a whole lot better than this.”
Clark Atlanta, which has nearly 5,000 students, has an open campus, with unguarded entries less than two miles from downtown Atlanta. But the school can’t build security fences or gates because they don’t own every property on campus, such as the barbershop.
“We’re not in just one location,” Rashon says. “Unlike many other schools, we’re a lot more spread out and in an urban location.”
While students have become more vocal about their concerns, reported crimes on and around campus have actually decreased each year since 2002, according to Atlanta police statistics. In the area that police call Zone 1 — taking in several colleges and the surrounding neighborhoods — police reported a total of 6,027 crimes including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft for the year that ended Dec. 30. That’s a drop of roughly 5 percent from 2004.
Atlanta Police spokeswoman Sylvia Abernathy says the department has increased its patrols and overall presence in the area. There also is a precinct station on campus.
But 20-year-old junior Racquel Fullman still doesn’t feel safe walking to class during the day. She says it seems that a crime must occur before steps are taken to protect students, and even then the security presence decreases over time.
“They’ll have public safety outside for two weeks after something happens,” Fullman says. “Then all of a sudden, you won’t see them around.”
Spelman and the Morehouse School of Medicine, both also historically Black colleges, have security gates to monitor vehicles entering and exiting their campuses. Morehouse College isn’t fenced but it has fewer entrances than Clark Atlanta.
Morehouse’s medical school also has security cameras positioned in and around its seven closely assembled buildings. Staff and faculty members are required to wear ID badges and must use magnetic cards to enter buildings.
“As visitors and cars come on the campus, public safety is charged with verifying who people are,” says Tony Collier, the school’s interim director for public safety.
Sherry Turner, interim vice president for student development at Spelman, says keeping private residences and small businesses within the college’s 32-acre perimeter helps maintain its exclusive, safe environment.
“The incidence of criminal acts on our campus are extremely low,” Turner says.
With Clark Atlanta operating on a tight budget and facing re-accreditation later this year, Miller says building security gates or fences would be difficult, but the school is “entertaining the issue.”
“We’re not shying from the idea, and it would be great to wipe out crime,” she says.
Stubbs, who graduates next spring, just hopes something more is done soon to make Clark Atlanta safer for students.
“I wouldn’t transfer and lose my credit,” she says. “But until I’m finished, I will be very reluctant in being involved with school activities. That’s how it is going be.”
— Associated Press
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