Crime alert emails

Few University of Minnesota publications quietly betray their mission to promote civic engagement and to conduct research more than its crime alerts.

Full of police report details and common sense tips but devoid of broader contextualization and real solutions, crime alert emails undermine their purpose to promote student safety. These emails fail to marshal any of the University’s intellectual resources in an effort to educate students on both the structural causes of crime and the policies necessary for crime reduction.

These publicly funded texts are certainly pedagogical, but their lessons, which only encourage students to take necessary but incredibly near-sighted precautions, should not make any teacher here proud.

Without even one hyperlinked nod toward readable scholarship on the matter, they are complicit with the mainstream media in mis-educating the public on crime and undermining our capacity to create a safer society for all. Moreover, these texts insult the intelligence of University students.

It is high time to revise them. At the very least, a portion of the tax dollars currently being spent on student safety should fund an effort to think more creatively and responsibly about these emails.

The University is home to an array of experts in sociology, urban planning, political science, mass communication and new media, who would be excited to collaborate with the University police and the local community to fundamentally rework these emails.

But if history tells us anything, it is that change, however small, will need to come from active and informed students who are willing to pressure University leaders to walk their talk. As a teacher of University Writing (WRIT 1301) who gets to work face-to-face with bright students on a regular basis, I plan to dedicate my spring 2014 course to studying these emails — their origins, ethics and efficacy — and to re-envisioning them.

I know many writing teachers who have been known to shelve the mass-produced textbook for the week and take up these emails as items for critical inquiry and debate. They ask students to think about who gets to compose these emails and whose interests these emails ultimately serve. More importantly, they teach students that the drive to discover begins, but doesn’t end, at home.

I encourage other writing teachers to do the same. It is our responsibility to enable students to recognize and challenge irresponsible writing. Together with our students, we can create a university and a citizenry that uses writing to truly promote public safety and the drive to discover.