Despite fears, campus remains largely safe

Michael Jensen

Almost everyone is anxious on their first day of school, let alone their first day of college. So for the freshmen who are taking their first tentative steps towards adulthood this week, I have a simple message for you — don’t freak out.

While I’m sure you came to UT to receive a world-class education and experience Longhorn football, I know you’ve probably heard some scary things about our University as well. Unfortunately, bad things can and do happen on campus. Just last April, Haruka Weiser was sexually assaulted and murdered on campus. This incident contributed to Austin’s soaring homicide rate in 2016. Even if you’re fearless and ready to take on the world, you probably have friends and family who worry about you. To all the anxious parents and students out there, the data suggests that your worst fears are probably overblown.

First, let’s talk about violent crime. 2016 has been a wild year and constant media coverage of tragedy after tragedy can give one the impression that homicide is fast becoming America’s national pastime. Austin’s murder rate is reportedly up 80 percent from last year. While this seems to suggest that we’re all in danger, the total number of murders was still only 23. In a city of 931,830, that’s remarkably low. Unlike Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, Austin isn’t considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in Texas.

As for sexual assault, telling you that it’s not a serious problem would be dangerous and disingenuous. The only silver lining is that UT’s incidence of sexual assault on campus is lower than the national average. Sexual violence will likely remain a serious problem on most college campuses for the foreseeable future, but there are also student groups and campus initiatives working to prevent it on the 40 acres. 

This fall, Campus Carry will pose a new safety concern for the entire UT community. While proponents might feel safer with an unknown number of armed classmates, the law has also been the subject of widespread protest and condemnation. Fortunately, Texas citizens must be at least 21 and undergo a training process before earning their concealed carry licenses, substantially limiting the number of guns on campus.

Even for those who strongly oppose campus carry, crime statistics regarding concealed carriers should be reassuring. A study from Police Quarterly found that concealed carriers were more law abiding than both the general population and police officers. While there are still some dangerous loopholes in our state gun laws, campus carry probably won’t turn UT into the wild west. 

Having recently observed the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower shooting, a massacre that left more than 16 dead, we know that tragedy can strike at any time. However, many of our worst fears and anxieties are overblown. Colleges like UT, and the world at large, are often not as dangerous as the nightly news would have us believe. So for all the new students and their parents, I repeat — please, don’t freak out. 

Jensen is a neuroscience senior from The Woodlands. He is an associate editor. Follow him on Twitter @michaeltangible.