Editorial: Crime Surge Calls for Community Outreach
Crime is at a surprising high in Oberlin this semester. First, we were confronted with numerous copies of Ronald Augustine’s face, the man entering houses uninvited and asking for women. Then there were two attempted Bike Co-op break-ins, two armed muggings — one successful and one not — a house shooting on Groveland Street and an Oberlin High School student shot by a 15 year old from Elyria.
Augustine’s face is not unfamiliar to the Oberlin Police Department, nor are Oberlin muggings. The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving last year also saw a violent streak in crime, with theft, muggings, and an assault, although to a lesser degree. However, last year the OPD was able to link the crimes together, whereas those from this semester seem to be isolated cases, including many personal brawls, which the OPD have yet to explain. More than half the crimes involved people under the age of 25.
Crime is commonly associated with poverty and limited access to education. It is ironic that in a town that dances on the outskirts of a reputable educational institution, access to education should be a problem. All communities expect sporadic crime, but if this Thanksgiving trend from last year to this year continues we should consider whether or not the college could have a more positive influence on these town happenings, specifically through outreach to young townspeople.
In his inauguration speech, President Krislov mentioned the unique, close relationship Oberlin College has with its surrounding town. Although there are multiple examples of college student influence in the town — teaching and tutoring in Oberlin high school, Eastwood elementary school, the MAD Factory — it is rare that we see townspeople participating in on-campus activities. Various townspeople attend lectures or concerts, but they are most often adults, often from Kendal, and not impressionable elementary or high school students. Townspeople are welcome to participate in ExCo classes, but turnout is low and advertising is not extensive. Many Oberlin High Schoolers are known to show up at parties, but these are not exactly the most conducive situations to learning.
The issue of race should not be overlooked. All of the people involved in the crimes this semester, with the exception of Augustine and the Bike Co-op break-ins, where the perpetrators were not identified, are black. One of the most recognizable groups of high school students who hang out in DeCafé off and on, and who is often seen walking around campus, is white.
If more emphasis were placed on each student organization reaching out — via extensive flyering or in-class presentations — to high school students, black and white, those youths could be inspired to participate in various college activities. Although not reducing poverty, even minimal involvement could be educational, while providing support and encouraging confidence. The OCEAN program offers college-level classes, guided by Oberlin professors, to partner high schools, including Oberlin High. However, only one will be offered this year in Oberlin.
Music is a universally appealing activity and another arena in which Oberlin excels. The Community Music School offers music courses and private lessons to community members. Though there is a fee, scholarships are available.
If organizations or events are too intimidating, coordinated projects are also a good way to build community. Bike Co-op classes specifically designed for town kids have a high turnout. Community projects at Jones farm offer an educational, novel setting for many young people. Krislov’s efforts to reach out to the community over inauguration weekend, to share college facilities with townspeople, were admirable and one more step in a promising direction.
If the crime rate in Oberlin continues to rise, we will see an increase in police patrols and a likely rise in town-gown tension. When parents of prospective students ask officers downtown about Oberlin’s crime rate, the response will be less reassuring. For now, Oberlin is still considered relatively safe. Posters and alerts remind us to act with caution always: lock your bike, keep an eye on your computer, and be careful when walking around town at night. This alarming new trend might pass. But if it turns out to be recurring, Oberlin College, with its resources and respect for social progress, should be prepared to act to counter the trend.