To the Editors of The Crimson:
Last spring, a group of Harvard/Radcliffe students who were concerned about security issues formed a lobbying organization called S.O.S., Students Organized for Security. S.O.S. believed that the main security problem facing students was the gap between the safe way of getting from one place to another and the convenient way of doing so. Therefore, S.O.S. was concerned mainly with the college's role and the college's responsibility.
I was co-chair of S.O.S.; however, I resigned in order to have more time for my thesis. As I reconsider security issues from this new vantage point. I grow firmer in a conviction which I have held for some time: namely, we as students should devote more thought to students' roles and responsibilities. I now believe that the main threat to students' safety stems from their obtuse refusal to acknowledge the hazards of living in Cambridge. Students believe that "It can't happen to me." Many students do not take even elementary security precautions such as locking suite doors.
Let me anticipate the two inevitable criticisms of this view: first, "you can't blame the victim": secondly, "the college should take a more active role in alerting students to potential dangers."
I agree that victims should not be blamed for the crimes committed against them. But what should you say about Radcliffe women who persist in walking home alone and at night across the Cambridge Common? They are not indicating their willingness to be raped. They are, however, allowing themselves to be unnecessarily vulnerable to attack. I for one will not run the risk of being attacked in order to prove my courage and independence.
I further agree that the college should more actively alert students to potential dangers. The current programs do emphasize the threat of property crime over that of personal crime. The college has been reluctant to adopt scare tactics which would hurt Harvard's image and drain its admissions pool. However, the "it can't happen to me" syndrome cannot be blamed entirely on college policies.
This point was brought home to me by a recent Yard incident. Two men entered a freshman suite through an unlocked fire door and harassed a freshman woman, saying. "You have nice legs... How do you know whether we're good guys or rapists?" and so on. It was 2 a.m. Even though a special effort had been made this year to alert freshmen to security hazards, these students were not concerned enough about security to check their doors at night.
So what is to be done?
First, the issue of students' responsibility for their own safety should be raised for public discussion. As it stands now, there is an impasse over the security issue. Students blame the administration for not providing enough security services or for not providing sufficiently convenient services. Administrators criticize students for not using the existing services.
Yes, we continue to lobby the college to improve and extend its security services. At the same time, we should recognize what the college can and cannot do. The college cannot keep all students safe at all times. It can provide for the safety of identifiable groups of students, e.g., students traveling from Lamont to the River Houses at night. Student proposals for increased security expenditures must be presented in terms of long-run costs and benefits to the community at large. Over the short run, the responsibility for particular choices (shall I go to Elsie's alone?) rests squarely on the shoulders of the individual student.
Secondly, it is incumbent upon students who have been attacked to report the attack to the Harvard University Police Department. The college cannot reasonably be expected to improve its security program without a demonstrated need. It cannot develop appropriate programs without an informed knowledge of the pattern of attacks.
Because I have some small notoriety as a security activist, I am constantly being told of attacks which took place last month, or last year, or three years ago--and were never reported to H.U.P.D. This upsets me and serves no constructive purpose (although these reports convinced me that most attacks could have been prevented and prompted me to write this letter).
I have focused here on students' roles in setting themselves up to be victims and on their responsibilities to themselves and to other students. I do not mean to imply that the college is blameless; however, that subject is being adequately discussed elsewhere.
In order to promote our safety, we must develop a constructive circle of student concern and administrative response. I believe that we are not now contributing our fair share to the job at hand.