Choosing a post-secondary institution is a major decision for students and their families. Along with academic, financial and geographic considerations, the issue of campus safety is a vital concern upon which students choose their study destination.
Unfortunately in the post-secondary sector in South Africa, colleges and universities are not required by law to keep and report on their campus crime statistics in order for potential students and their families to make an informed determination on the choice of their institution of study, based on the safety considerations. Nor is there an expectation from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) for colleges and universities to report on their annual campus crime statistics.
Would it not be “nice” for students to know which institution they are least or most likely to be raped or be killed as in the recent cases of a young girl who was raped in the “safety” of her residence bathroom? Or be stabbed to death like Lwando Mantshontsho in an environment where students are allowed to bring alcohol into campus, leading to violent crimes and brutal deaths? Or where unsanctioned drinking parties are held every weekend at popular campus spots like swimming pools, where female students are lured to acts of debauchery on campus spaces?
Having invested for years in the life of young Lwando throughout his basic education in rural Cofimvaba, and in post-secondary education towards a medical career that would lift his family out of the stubborn grip inter-generational poverty, maybe the Mantshotsho family must consider suing the Walter Sisulu University (and the Minister of Higher Education and Training?) for its dereliction of duty in the protection of their prime investment in the person of Lwando. In a country where there is rampant poverty and high unemployment rates of the youth, we should be putting every cent and effort, to protect our students in colleges and universities, who are an embodiment of a future of hope and prosperity!
It was on 5 April in 1986 that the young Jeanne Ann Clery was raped and murdered by a fellow student Josoph M Henry in Stoughton Hall at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. According to the trial evidence, Jeanne Clery was awoken by her assailant who in the process of robbing her beat, cut, raped, sodomized and strangled her to death. Prior to her brutal death, there were reports that almost 181 rooms at Stoughton Hall had faulty locking mechanism, leaving female students like Jeanne Clery vulnerable to intruders, leading to her death.
As Connie and Howard Clery learned more about their daughter`s death, there was growing evidence that she had died as a result of shoddy security on campus. The parents believed that the Lehigh University was complicit in her death because the institution had “a rapidly escalating crime rate, which they didn’t tell anybody about”. The parents were also convinced that “campus crime statistics had been significantly underreported”, leading to their daughter been exposed to potential harm and ultimate death.
It was as a result of the murder of Jeanne Clery in 1986, that the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act in 1990 in the United States of America. The Clery Act “requires all colleges and universities all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses”. Through this Act, colleges and universities are required by law to publish their Annual Campus Security Report to current and prospective students and employees. Penalties are levied against institutions that fail to comply with mandatory reporting on their campus statistics.
The School and Campus Safety Summit to be held on 12-14 May 2017 at the University of the Western Cape in Bellville should consider the route of mandatory campus statistics as an option towards gathering intelligence on campus crimes. And for such reporting to be used not only to combat campus crimes effectively, but also to inform the public about the safest or most dangerous campuses to study at. In this way, Lwando Mantshontsho, and many others before, would not have died in vain.
Segomotso Sebokedi is the CEO of Student Support Services Agency and he writes in his personal capacity.