Cambridge is the sort of urban community where opulent dormitories full of expensive stereo equipment gleam only blocks away from extreme poverty and oppression. But causes were not an issue when the crime wave came late last fall. Its appearance was a fact of life, so the rhetoric was that of fear and paranoia.
People who live and work at the richest university in the world are accustomed to a feeling of protection--economic security which implies physical security. The criminal threat to that security arose most furiously at a time when another important psychic power source--heat and light--was also being severed. Shivering and afraid, then, and stunned by the apparently senseless flurry of violent crimes blowing in with the winter, Harvard began to take action.
Already in September the University had spent $30,000 to initiate a shuttle bus service. Egged on by the protests of many, including Radcliffe students who were often too frightened to attend evening meetings away from the Quad, Harvard leased two buses on an experimental basis to transport students, free of charge, between the yard, the Business School and Radcliffe, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day. After a slow autumn, when the buses were usually empty, the program began to gain momentum. By February what seemed like fleets of old rattling buses were careening all over the campus, with service expanded and students packed in shoulder to shoulder.
Part of this may have had to do with the cold weather, but the main reason was fear. October saw the beginning of a season when harvard students and employees were assaulted and robbed with increasing frequency. By mid-November, President Bok had formed the Committee to Study Violent Crimes, in response to statistics like these from the Harvard police: 16 instances of reported assault and battery and 7 incidents of armed robbery. The same period in the academic year 1972-73 had produced a fraction of this number.
Meanwhile, various women's groups had submitted to House masters proposals to take steps, while the Administration began to implement security measures. Lights were improved, as were entry-way locks; student patrols were formed; escort systems arose so students could travel at night.
Then, in late November, two tragedies occurred in one week, which highlighted the urgency of the matter. Ethel P. Higonnet, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, was shot and killed while walking past Longfellow Park on affluent Brattle Street, one block from her home. She had been the victim of an attempted rape. Shortly afterward, a Harvard secretary, Barbara Brown, was assaulted and struck in the face by a hurled brick while returning from work. Both incidents had taken place in early evening.
Harvard promptly allowed all University secretaries to leave work early enough to be home before dark. The Harvard policy issued 800 whistles to students, and pressed an educational campaign urging students to be watchful for scuffles but not to become involved. They offered to supply rides for anyone stranded away from a bus line. In January, Bok's committee released an interim report which stressed furthering security activity.
But by spring the atmosphere had lifted. In May the Office of Women's Education sponsored a conference on rape prevention in anticipation of increasing sexual assaults, and undoubtedly this spring has been as dangerous as any spring in any city. Yet the dark spectre of paranoia from six months ago is gone.