Issues of Safety at Skidmore College and the World Beyond: A Discussion of Youthful Idealism & Harsh Realities

Police barricaded Skidmore's entrances during the frightening lockdown on October 1. By Times Union By Ryan Davis '17

There’s been no shortage of discussion regarding this year’s safety concerns at Skidmore. We’ve been getting a steady volley of emails from Campus Safety informing us of various dangers and crimes committed both on and off campus. Last week’s lockdown was probably the most dramatic of these cases.

In general, discussions that have taken place among students fall into one of two categories: Are there more safety reports this year at Skidmore due to an increase transparency? Or is the increase in reports a sign of the outside world changing for the worse? I wish to respond to the latter. What is the nature of this often-pessimistic world, and how are we to respond as a community? The question of what kind of world we live in is one that varies widely depending on who you ask. I don’t have concrete answers, only thoughts on the problems of our generation, and how we can respond to them.

I know I’m not alone in admitting that recent local acts of violence have left me a bit spooked. The recent assault just off campus that hospitalized two students has me checking my back a bit more often than I would have last year. The fact that one of the assailants involved was a Skidmore student troubles me even more. The string of burglaries on campus has me locking my door even when I’m just walking down the hall, and the lockdown has me valuing the quiet mornings we typically spend tired, groggy, and without fear. Having had such a quiet freshman year last year, these occurrences seem so uncharacteristic of our community. For the first-years, who have no prior experience at Skidmore to base their opinions off of, each new safety report must be more worrisome than the last.

The idealist in me wants to focus on how these are isolated incidents, and that by-and-large, Skidmore is a safe campus. Last week’s lockdown was an incredibly rare occurrence, and it was handled very well by Campus Safety and state law enforcement. Therefore, I believe that we cannot lose faith in Skidmore’s community due to fear. That ever-darkening world outside Perimeter Road can only taint our experiences here if we allow it to. Fear is toxic. Panic leads us to mistrust and be wary of strangers. A little caution is a good thing, but I worry that students will become terrified of meeting new people around campus, and our community will turn bitter.

I believe that Skidmore students are some of the kindest people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. If we remember that we are a community, we can better maintain the safe and welcoming atmosphere that makes our campus so special. There will always be danger in the world. If we stand together, though, we can ensure that the campus itself is a safer place, simply by being aware and being there for one another.

However, it’s not quite that simple. What I have just said is a manifestation of youthful idealism. I grew up in a small town roughly the same size as Saratoga Springs, and I’ve always seen these kinds of communities as safe havens. I feel as though writer Matthew Arnold described this feeling best in his poem “Dover Beach:” “We are here as on a darkening plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” Published in 1867, the poem represents the world as it was 150 years ago. The present is very different, and yet still very much the same. There are global terrors to fear, such as Ebola, Russia’s recent military campaigns in Ukraine and Crimea, and the Islamic State. As college students growing up in this world, I fear idealism might not be enough. It is hard to stay positive about the state of our community when the outside world seems to be falling apart.

Maybe, as I’ve heard some people suggest, we do need armed guards at educational institutions. Maybe we do need road checkpoints, thicker doors, and a campus that is harder to access. Maybe such measures are the only ways to keep students safe. But I hope that it never comes to that, that we are stronger than the struggles we may face, and that with that strength, recent safety incidents may remain isolated, and stop occurring. If anything, I hope that discussions of how we as a community will respond to recent safety concerns will help bring us together, and make us stronger.

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