November 8 is the 20th anniversary of the landmark Jeanne Clery Act (originally known as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990), named for the first year student who was brutally raped and murdered in her residence hall room in 1986 by a student she did not know. Her parents, Howard and Connie, founded the nonprofit organization Security On Campus, Inc. to steward the law and educate the public about campus safety. A basic premise of their life's work is that when families send their children to school they have a right to know whether the environment is safe; and young adults who are leaving home, in most instances for the first time, should be accurately informed about the safety of their school.
That is why each fall since the Jeanne Clery Act, institutions of higher learning are required to release to students their Annual Security Reports - listing crime statistics for the prior three calendar years, plus key campus security policies and practices to prevent and respond to crime, as well as support victims and ensure justice. In worst case scenarios, institutions determined by the Department of Education (tasked by Congress with enforcement of the Act) to be in non-compliance may face fines of $27,500 per violation. I want to stress that the Jeanne Clery Act is not intended as strictly punitive legislation. When a school is fined, we all have failed.
Much of the problem, and certainly the solution, can be distilled to effective communication. Institutional transparency and accountability are built upon the willingness and ability to communicate. Thus, the disclosures and practices required by the Jeanne Clery Act provide a lens through which a school's commitment and understanding of the basic safety needs and expectations of the campus community can be viewed. The Jeanne Clery Act provides a comprehensive framework that, when proactively utilized, engages the entire campus community as genuine partners in safety
The U.S. Department of Justice, in a 2008 study focusing on a recent ten-year period, found there was a 9-percent drop in violent crime, a 30-percent drop in property crime on campuses, and a 5-percent increase in the base rate of pay for campus police. Last month, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, addressing over 700 participants at a Department of Education conference in Washington, D.C., highlighted the 20th anniversary of the Jeanne Clery Act:
Colleges and universities once considered campus violence as off limits for discussion. Nothing good could come out of acknowledging crime - at least, nothing good for the administration. Meanwhile, those who were victimized were ignored and left to cope in silence, and the rest of the campus was kept in the dark about safety threats. The Clery Act helped to change that... its most positive legacy has been that it's advanced the debate from whether to address campus violence to how to address it. Colleges and universities now are much more focused on solving a problem than on admitting one exists. This was a huge step in the right direction.
Twenty years on, higher education's leadership must continue to expand and ensure that a comprehensive strategy reaches beyond campus boundaries. Crime is everyone's issue. Every student, administrator, faculty member, and staff person on a college campus needs to be motivated to make changes in the campus climate towards violence and justice. Connections within the campus, and especially beyond, must be strengthened, creating a well-coordinated campus safety network in every campus community. There must be sustained efforts to step in as active bystanders, support survivors, highlight other avenues to heal, and assure raised awareness of crucial campus safety issues impacting students on every campus across our country.
The good news is that after many decades of progress -- and in the face of continuing challenges such as sexual violence, stalking, and binge drinking -- higher education has the leadership and experience necessary to promote practices and solutions for transforming campus culture. For all the tragic news we are faced with, what does not attract headlines are the everyday examples of dedicated, passionate individuals making positive differences on every campus. I can attest to the thousands of allies our organization has in higher education, and beyond, whom we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with when working for safer campus communities for students.
Earlier this year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated how safety was a metric during his tenure as CEO of Chicago's schools, and that his basic operating premise was "no school can be a great school until it is a safe school first." These remarks were about bullying prevention for the K-12 education system, but also apply to higher education. Recognizing the importance of the information the Jeanne Clery Act provides for higher education, this anniversary is a poignant time to consider a National Higher Education Campus Safety Summit, bringing together the top officials from the Departments of Justice and Education, student leaders, law enforcement, public safety, victims advocates, and other experts to determine the priorities and resources necessary to implement significant, evidence-based change.
With the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Jeanne Clery Act, a law that helps to protect over 18 million students each year, let us take stock of our priorities as a nation. In the decades ahead, how can the Jeanne Clery Act be utilized to further a genuine national commitment to transforming campus culture? From the presidents of higher education to the President of the United States, the anniversary is an opportunity to highlight progress which has been made, while setting a course to address challenges and ultimately create safer communities. Campus communities should be an example of our best aspirations and intentions for a civil society. We all should be motivated by this simple fact: great education is meaningless if we are not willing to do our best to protect the safety and well being of students.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more