When Laura Dickinson was found on the floor of her Eastern Michigan University dorm room last December, she was naked from her waist down with semen on her leg and a pillow covering her face. The following day, EMU’s administrators informed students on the university website that there was “no reason to suspect foul play.”
This was the extent of their explanation until a suspect was caught in February. No one was told that maybe when a 22-year-old is raped and murdered everything isn’t A-OK. No one was told that if someone can break into a supposedly secure dorm once, it’s likely that it could happen again, especially if the killer is emboldened by the three days it took for the body to be found.
Just across the border from Ypsilanti, though, there is a different story in Ann Arbor.
Although it’s easy to forget, Ann Arbor isn’t a hippie-filled utopia where violence is no longer a problem. Believe it or not, rape, murder and theft all happen here, too. Even in the last couple of weeks, the city has been plagued with an unusual increase in knife violence with three people being stabbed in well-developed and well-populated areas of town.
But when these things happen in Ann Arbor, there is a backlash from the community like a parent reprimanding a child. Immediately, Department of Public Safety crime alerts are plastered on the walls of University buildings. Suspect profiles line the storefronts. Most importantly, there is a two-way conversation between the community and public officials, as the former demands an explanation instead of waiting for one.
And for the most part, people feel safe in Ann Arbor, even at night, while Ypsilanti is considered a far more dangerous place.
Sure, Dickinson’s death at EMU is a troubling example of an administration that was determined to hide the truth about the incident from the community. This is why EMU President John Fallon, Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Vick and Public Safety Director Cindy Hall are jobless now. This is also why EMU could be facing tough federal punishment under the Clery Act, which requires universities to inform their students about safety concerns.
But this is also a troubling example of a community that didn’t ask any of the hard questions. Whatever the administration told the students was accepted as fact, even though there was ample evidence to contradict the university’s nonchalant approach. Not the least of this evidence was an investigation by the Michigan State Police that concluded Dickinson might have been murdered and an examination by the county medical examiner, who concluded that the death was suspicious.
While there are many things that we already know will help prevent violence, like strict enforcement of gun control laws and working against poverty and drug abuse to improve the lives of those who turn to violence, the one thing that is still missing is a sense of social and individual responsibility.
Being responsible doesn’t mean that you blame yourself when violence occurs like many people did after the massacre at Virginia Tech earlier this year. It also doesn’t mean that the only time you read or care about violence is when 32 people die on a college campus.
There are numerous other acts of violence, like the 34 schoolchildren in Chicago who have been killed in various acts of violence since last school year, that deserve our attention, too. But aside from a few thousand words by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert and a slight recognition of the problem by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a campaign speech this hasn’t grabbed any national attention. And unfortunately, the same is true of the rampant violence in Detroit and most of America’s major cities.
Before we ever come close to solving the problem of violence in our country and our own communities, there is still one boundary yet to be crossed: People need to start caring about it and demanding explanations and action
Gary Graca is the summer editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.