During my three years at Oberlin, there has been a steady stream of theft on campus. The crimes often occur at the same times and in the same locations year after year. Despite the obvious patterns, however, the College has done little to address the situation, and students’ belongings remain vulnerable.
As a student, I have heard about all sorts of items being stolen — cellphones, gaming systems, laptops, money, shoes, clothing, posters, and more. The thefts I’ve heard about are nearly always nonviolent, occur when students are away from their on-campus homes, and are concentrated in school-owned Village Housing Units.These incidents are usually reported but never solved, and students often get little sympathy from the College and local police.
One such wave of thefts took place this Winter Term, when several college-owned and off-campus student houses were targeted while students were out of town. Unfortunately, my own Village Housing Unit was hit during the string. My housemates and I had hundreds of dollars worth of items stolen, including a gaming system, jewelry, and brand new winter boots.
This experience provided me with a firsthand sense of the gravity of the issue. We reported the incident to Oberlin Police and Campus Safety. Since those reports, however, we have heard very little about the incident and our belongings, and neither department has provided a follow-up to our report. We are holding out hope that we will hear back from the police and even potentially get the items back, but at this point this seems highly unlikely. As of now, our experience feels like just another burglary added to a long list of similar thefts that have gone ignored by the College.
Beyond monetary costs, the pattern of theft on campus takes a toll on victims and the campus population more generally. Many feel unsafe in their campus residences and that they must be on high alert at all times. Sure, a completely crime-free campus is unrealistic, and employing caution is useful. But students should not need to fear for the safety of themselves and their possessions.
Much of the feeling of insecurity is due to the fact that the situation has yet to be seriously addressed. On the contrary, it seems that there have been no security improvements. There is no single simple solution to the problem, but surely steps can be taken toward solving it.
A good first step would be better communication between the school and theft victims. After our initial report, the information we gained came only after we reached out to the police and Campus Safety ourselves. This lack of communication gives the impression that the school is doing nothing to address these crimes. One certainly hopes that this is not the case, but we can’t know for sure. More effective communication would, at the very least, give students the sense that safety officials take these incidents seriously.only after we reached out to the police and Campus
There are additional steps the College can take beyond public relations improvements. For example, Village Housing security is poor and in need of significant upgrades. In my experience, many outside door locks are either weak and easily manipulated or don’t work at all. No one expects the school to make its houses totally impervious, but a complete revamp of the locks is reasonable and entirely necessary.
Furthermore, Campus Safety officers can do a much better job when students are on breaks. My house was burglarized in early January, and the back door was left open until I returned weeks later. A simple check-in on the house could’ve prevented that and likely discovered the theft weeks earlier. Time is crucial in solving such cases, and the delay likely squandered any chance we had at getting our belongings back.
Oberlin College housing is a recurring target of the thefts, suggesting that burglars view it is as an easy target. The College has done little to nothing to change that perception, and this cannot continue. With the housing costs the school charges, students deserve a much higher level of safety in their on-campus homes, and burglaries should be rare events rather than expected occurrences. The College must take significant action to solve the problem rather than ignore it and hope that no one notices