I went abroad and all I got was this lousy mugging

by Beacon Staff • April 16, 2008

"Before, at family gatherings my grandparents, aunts and uncles would always tell me to be careful [in Boston]," Jayna Davis, a freshman writing, literature and publishing major, said.,As newly-accepted students begin to turn in their housing forms, their parents begin to ask questions that dig a little deeper into Emerson's workings. They often ask about the safety of Emerson's campus and what security measures have been set in place.

"Before, at family gatherings my grandparents, aunts and uncles would always tell me to be careful [in Boston]," Jayna Davis, a freshman writing, literature and publishing major, said. "Hearing about girls walking alone and getting jumped or raped worried my mom and dad."

Safety is a valid concern for parents, especially those that are unfamiliar with the Boston area. Like any college, Emerson has a fair share of crime, which can be seen in statistics.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education releases data on the number of criminal offenses, hate crimes and arrests for every college and university. The data is self-reported by each individual college.

BOSTON

According to the report, Emerson is below the crime average of other Boston colleges. In 2006, Emerson had very few cases of criminal offenses, with the exception of burglaries, of which there were five in the residence halls and nine in other on campus buildings. There was also one case of aggravated assault.

The average number of cases of criminal offenses on public property, most of which occurred on Boston Common, were above the average for the rest of Boston. There were two forcible sex offenses, more than 20 reports of robbery, more than 50 reports of aggravated assault and more than 20 reports of motor vehicle theft reported.

Shay Brown, a freshman writing, literature and publishing major, had her purse stolen while she was in line at Emerson's Cafeacute;. According to Brown, a woman snatched the bag and ran off with it. Brown followed the woman into an alley before the woman used the purse to hit her.

"I was caught off guard coming from a utopian small town and this wisened me substantially," Brown said in an e-mail to The Beacon.

Christina St. Pierre, a junior marketing communication major said, "As a freshman, I was paranoid [about Boston], but you get used to it." She is now preparing to leave the city and go to Kasteel Well this summer.

Though safety is a concern, many problems can be prevented with common sense, said St. Pierre.

KASTEEL WELL

On the other side of the world, the students at Kasteel Well deal with safety issues specific to traveling in a foreign country.

Recently The Beacon reported that teenagers in Dubrovnik, Croatia attacked a number of Emerson students. According to the article, students were attacked in two separate incidents. Three of the four students were taken to the hospital to be checked, but were not seriously injured.

However, the attacks are not the norm for students studying and traveling abroad. Students at Kasteel Well said that they generally felt safe, especially with the trips that Emerson planned.

"I haven't really ever felt unsafe, even when we were traveling in Croatia and encountered lots of potential dangers," said sophomore Nicole Gerber.

Gerber said that the main problem was theft of money, purses, wallets and other personal items.

"Pickpockets are professionals and they can get you even when you hide your money," the broadcast journalism major said.

The program at Kasteel Well in the Netherlands allows students to take classes and travel around Europe and includes two required trips outside of the country planned by Emerson. Students that participated in the program this past spring traveled to London, England and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Other than those excursions, students make their own travel plans. These independent trips generally occur without problems, but can sometimes be dangerous, especially when students are not familiar with their surroundings.

"The only time I may have felt uncomfortable or uneasy was when I was in a really bad hostel in a rough part of Dublin," Gerber said. "But that was the choice I made in my own travel plans."

Whether in Boston, Los Angeles or the Netherlands, the best advice seems to be that students should always use common sense.

Marita Sarad, a sophomore marketing communication major, described the feelings of many students at each of Emerson's three campuses.

"For me, and I think a lot of other people, the biggest problem is that we forget that crime is always a possibility and become comfortable with our surroundings easily, especially now since we have been traveling so much," Sarad, a Kasteel Well participant, wrote in an e-mail to The Beacon.

Despite the statistics, students generally feel that the college does the best that it can in keeping students safe.

"I've never heard anything bad before [hearing about Croatia]," St. Pierre said. "The school does its best to keep you safe and it seems like people have a good time."

LOS ANGELES

Despite being located in the second most populated city in America, as reported by the 2000 Census, and the most crime-ridden city in California, according to a 2007 report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the data reported for Emerson's L.A. campus is also positive for students living there. In 2006, there were no criminal offenses reported on campus.

On public property, however, 10 instances of aggravated assault were reported by Emerson, and in 2005 there were 24 instances of burglary. In spite of this, students participating in Emerson's Los Angeles Program said they feel safe.

Scott Amico, a senior currently participating in the program, said that though he felt a bit safer in Boston, LA wasn't so bad once he got used to it.

"Even before getting here I was worried about theft and my personal safety just from all the stories you hear," the TV/video major said in an e-mail to The Beacon. "It took about a month and half for me to relax and trust my own instincts and judgment."

Other students said, however, that certain aspects of LA made them more comfortable than Boston. Paul Cantillon, also a TV/video major in the program, said that the frequency of driving as opposed to walking was an important factor.

"LA is such a large city that anytime you go anywhere, you're almost always in a car so there's no waiting for trains alone and no walking home late at night," the senior said in an e-mail. "That's when I always felt the most unsafe in Boston. Weird people come out at night but here you just get in your car and drive away from them."

In fact, in comparison to the L.A. statistics, Emerson's main campus reported nine instances of burglary on-campus in 2006 and 55 instances of aggravated assault on public property, most of which, the report said, occurred on Boston Common.

The program participants reside in Los Angeles for a semester and participate in coursework with professors who are also professionals in the perspective fields of study, as well as internships in nearby locations in the

entertainment industry. While participating in the program, students reside in fully-furnished apartments in the Oakwood Apartment complex, which is located near Universal Studios, Warner Brothers and NBC, as well as the Los Angeles Center, where the students attend their classes and complete assignments.

Students said that the complex is gated, so there is little concern about their safety. However, the apartments are not limited to Emerson students, as other colleges and citizens also rent them out, and theft both among fellow students and by fellow residents at the apartments seems to be a significant problem, Cantillon said.

"A girl down the hall from me left her bag at the L.A. center...for a few minutes and when she came back someone had stolen her laptop," he said. "And one of the RA's had nearly all of her laundry stolen right out of the dryers at the Oakwoods."

The students said, however, that as in most situations, being smart about your surroundings is the best way to stay out of trouble.

"For the most part, I choose to stay out of certain neighborhoods and areas just because of their reputation," Amico said. "But if I do find myself in those areas, I make sure to watch around me and be totally aware of my surroundings."

Cantillon agrees that it is really that simple.

"Just be smart," he said. "Don't trust people you just met, never leave your things unattended and, honestly, if something sounds like a bad idea it probably is."

TAIWAN

A third and lesser-known study abroad program is the Taiwan program, where students can study at Emerson's sister school Shih Hsin University. It is not included in the criminal statistics report. According to its description on Emerson's Web site, "Shih Hsin University has grown to become the preeminent school of journalism, broadcasting and communication in Taiwan."

Emerson students participating in the program must be of sophomore, junior or senior standing, and are required to study Chinese and tutor other students in English while they are there. They are placed in regular residence halls, in an attempt to immerse them Shih Hsin in the student body.

For many student who participated, it is a way to experience a completely different culture.

Junior Jennan Al-Hamdouni, who went in the spring of 2007 said she originally wanted to do this program instead of going to Kasteel Well because she thought the Netherlands program was too Americanized, and she wouldn't get a true experience. In the end, however, the writing, literature and publishing and organization and political communication double major said she did not have an experience that she would recommend to anyone.

She was placed in a room with three girls from Taiwan, who she said seemed like they had not been warned they would have an American roommate, and as a result were unfriendly.

"About a month into living with them they started accusing me of theft in the room," she said. They brought the matter to public safety, who fingerprinted Al-Hamdouni's room six or seven times in the span of a month to try to resolve the issue, she said.

Eventually she said she was placed in a new room with three girls who were much more friendly. However, when her mother came to visit her a few weeks before the end of the semester, one of her original roommates verbally attacked her mother. The girl tried to shake her, threatening to contact the Taiwanese police, in which case Al-Hamdouni would have been detained, had her visa taken away and run into difficulty getting home, she said. As a result, she left the program two weeks early.

She said the issue was not dealt with in a way she would have expected by the Taiwanese officials involved.

"If anything like this had happened at any American school, people would have intervened immediately," she said. "Things are dealt with here; things are not looked away from."

Besides that, she said she was attacked a couple of times off-campus, but was simply told that she should not travel alone as a female, which she said she would have had a problem with if someone had told her before she went, but she now sees the point in it.

"I am not someone who is intimidated easily on safety...but for me the way that I felt when I left Taiwan and who I am as a girl-I don't know how many girls can deal with that," she said. "I don't think that a girl student at Emerson should go if she were the only girl."

Al-Hamdouni was disappointed with her experience, and said there was no comparison between the safety at Emerson's Boston campus and that of Taiwan.

"They are two different worlds completely," she said. "If nothing else, I did get an experience out of going to Taiwan."