Clery Act – Not So Clear?

I asked over four dozen students around campus if they knew what the Clery Act is, and only four had any idea of what I was talking about. This is concerning considering it is a law that affects every single student at Mines.

Originally enacted as an amendment to the Higher Education Act in 1990, the Clery Act was written to maximize the accountability of Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) regarding the safety of their students. It mandated the disclosure of campus crime and safety information. There have been several changes to specifics of the Act since 1990 however, the rudimentary purpose of the amendment remains the same.

You know those emails and text messages you get sometimes from the Mines Police Department about an incident that occurred either on campus or involving a Mines student? If you read through it completely, it mentions that those messages are in accordance with the Clery Act. The school is required to inform us about dangerous situations and potential threats to our community⸺primarily those concerning sexual assault although arson, hate crimes, and negligent manslaughter are also included on the list.

One of the newest inclusions in the Clery Act is the list of offenses related to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Some of these offenses were explained in the presentation given to freshmen at the beginning of the semester, but many are still unaware of what they entail. Dating and domestic violence are considered crimes under VAWA as well as stalking. These are seemingly common and misconceived to be minor crimes, but they are taken very seriously in the Clery Act. VAWA offenses and sexual assaults are some of the most common transgressions on the campuses of IHEs and some of the most terrifying.

Receiving notifications about crimes like that are alarming, to say the least. The realization that something that horrific was happening around campus, was not one I wanted to have during the first semester of my freshman year. I read those messages over and over again, I just couldn’t believe that the stories I heard on the news and saw in movies and TV shows were real. That information made my roommates and me more conscious of what we were doing to keep ourselves and each other safe.

The requirement to inform students and parents about crimes on campus may seem like an invasion of privacy, and perhaps harmful to the school’s public appearance, but there have been measures taken to ensure the Act does not violate privacy laws and these reports are paramount in protecting the safety of students on and off-campus. While this system cannot necessarily prevent future crimes, the information promotes vigilance and allows students to get involved in other means of prevention such as self-defense classes and bystander-intervention training (a mandatory online course at Mines).

It’s far from perfect though. The messages we receive are vague and provide almost no detail as far as what actually transpired. It tells us we need to be safe and protect ourselves, but not necessarily from what. The most recent Clery report that came out very nondescriptly told of an assault that occurred involving a fraternity; none of the Greek life presidents were aware of the assault until the email was sent and even then, they were given little to no information about what transpired. They were pestered by their friends and classmates for names and locations they didn’t even know. As a result, some of the fraternity members purposely chose not to wear their letters due to fear of association with the crime reported by the Mines Police Department. The students were afraid of defending against assumptions and inferences others made as a result of the lack of information disclosed. These events beg the question: who is the ambiguity meant to protect? The victims or the offenders?

The vague nature of the emails and texts does little more than fear monger. Students like me are suddenly afraid to go to parties and social gatherings past a certain time because we have no idea how to prevent something from happening to us. That includes being the victim of a crime, as well as being falsely incriminated due to inadequate knowledge of past events. 

These are problems that have arisen and worsened over the past few years and they occur within every IHE. I can only hope that the Clery Act will continue to be edited and amended until it becomes a solution to the crisis the nation’s universities and colleges are facing today with regards to offenses such as sexual assault, arson, theft, and hate crimes.

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