Speaking Out

'Uninspired Response' to Crime

I recently read with dismay an article in the New York Times (September 28) about a crime wave in West Philadelphia. As a resident of West Philadelphia for seven years while I attended Penn and worked with the West Philadelphia schools, I remember the fear of walking home alone at night or debating whether the subways were safe. I can't think of a single friend from my years in West Philadelphia without a story to tell about a crime incident or near-incident.

Yet my dismay increased as I read about the response from the University administration. Although President Judith Rodin declared that "there is no higher priority than the safety and security of everyone who lives or works at Penn" (Almanac September 3), she described only new investments in "equipment, technology and facilities" as her answer to public safety concerns. I cannot argue with the fact that Penn must provide protection for its students and staff. But I do take issue with the notion that increasing safety measures is alone an adequate or effective strategy.

As income disparities between West Philadelphia residents and the Penn community grow and unemployment and homelessness continue to be realities of life in West Philadelphia, crime will never be under control. University students and staff will continue to be easy targets. And increased security measures can only go so far. Apart from building a wall around the campus or assigning a police officer to every student and staff member, Penn cannot guarantee protection. Nor, do I think, would anyone want the problem to be solved in this manner.

Is it not time that the University decide to commit itself to solving the real issues underlying the West Philadelphia crime wave? Addressing the causes of poverty and the deterioration of urban areas is the real answer to crime. It is a critical mission of the University--not only for moral and intellectual reasons, but for the University's wellbeing. The University is a part of West Philadelphia and will be for many years to come. Making West Philadelphia a vital community where Penn affiliates and community members can live side by side should be the University's highest priority.

It is, however, a mission that cannot be accomplished through a scattering of "feel-good" public service activities. It would require a serious investment of the rather substantial intellectual, human, institutional and economic resources the University possesses. Solving the issues that face urban communities, and in particular the urban community of which Penn is a part, should be the core intellectual work of Penn's students and faculty and a critical concern of the staff and administration.

I do hope that next time I read about the University in the national press, it is because it is at the forefront of universities solving the fundamental issues facing our country, not because of its uninspired reaction to a crime wave.

-- Jacqeline Kraemer, College '87


Volume 43 Number 9
October 22, 1996

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