In the last three months, the University of Minnesota has sent more than a dozen crime alerts and attracted media attention for the several violent incidents on and around campus.
While officials say they don’t think prospective students will be any more concerned about safety at the University than at other schools, some prospective students say the crime is concerning and may affect their interest in the University.
“It just seems like it’s getting more and more unsafe,” said Eagan High School senior Nissi Kunjummen. “I’m still applying there, but it’s definitely moved down on my list.”
Associate Vice Provost of Enrollment Management and Director of Admissions Rachelle Hernandez said tour guides have noticed more concern about campus crime, especially from local families who have heard about the crimes.
Hernandez said families are often curious about what the University does to prevent and respond to crimes, but she doesn’t think the concerns are any greater than at other schools.
“I would say that students are going to be looking at safety questions here and how the University is responding as they would at other campuses,” she said.
In response to the concerns, Hernandez said tour guides are having more conversations about on-campus safety with prospective students and families, pointing out resources like Gopher Chauffeur and the security escort service.
“We’re sharing with families the number of hours being put into additional [police] patrol; we’re sharing with families the kinds of proactive messages that go out to students,” Hernandez said. “Our goal is to be transparent.”
Sydney Jacobson, a Post-Secondary Enrollment Options student, said the recent crimes might deter her from choosing the University.
While she wasn’t worried about her safety when she started attending University classes, Jacobson said she’s felt more “edgy” after the recent crimes.
Crime on and around campus has been trending downward for years. But since the beginning of the semester, University police have sent out alerts for 20 crimes, including two sexual assaults, an attempted kidnapping and several armed robberies.
Eastview High School senior Noah Skantz said he thinks the recent crime has made the University less attractive to some prospective students.
Skantz is still considering the University and said his college decision will ultimately be a financial one. Skantz said he still considers safety an important factor, and it’s especially important to his parents.
Prospective student Phillip Braun, who recently toured the University, said he hasn’t heard about the recent crimes near campus. Braun and his father agreed that safety is important, but it isn’t something they’re very concerned about.
“I think I’m pretty safe on my own, so it’s not a huge factor, because I know most schools are safe,” Braun said.
Some current University students say the school’s location makes crime inevitable.
“If you live in a city, there’s always going to be crime,” said urban studies and history junior Cody Olson. “There’s nothing you can do about that.”
Skantz agreed the University’s location plays into its relative safety.
“I never really thought of a college campus as a place where a kidnapping would happen,” he said. “But you always hear about that happening in a city, and the U is in a city.”
Off-campus housing concerns
Almost all of the crimes triggering alerts this semester have occurred in one of the four Minneapolis neighborhoods surrounding the University.
But some neighborhood representatives and property owners said they aren’t concerned that the recent crime could discourage students from moving off campus.
Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association Executive Director Melissa Bean said crime around the University “ebbs and flows,” but police usually end up stamping out any flare-ups.
Even though many victims are students, Bean said she doesn’t think crime will deter students from moving into the neighborhood.
“It’s just such a convenient location,” she said.
Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents three of the neighborhoods around the University, said he’s fielded calls from parents wondering whether their children should have moved off campus.
Nic Puzak, who manages several off-campus properties, said he has gotten more questions about safety from prospective renters in the past two weeks. But the demand for off-campus housing outstrips supply, he said, and students will continue living in neighborhoods around the University despite the recent crime.
“Where else are they going to live?” he said.
Dinkytown Rentals owner Tim Harmsen said he’s worried crime will deter renters from choosing his properties, even though the University area is “generally very safe.”
One group of renters already backed out of their lease for a property near Marcy Park, Harmsen said, after they researched the area and saw a crime rate higher than they expected.
Compared to other high-density areas in the Twin Cities, the University area is relatively safe.
Robberies and assaults make up a smaller portion of total crime in the University neighborhoods than they do in downtown Minneapolis, according to Minneapolis Police Department data.
“But any little incident gets so much PR, gets so inflated, gets so much play … it may skew people’s perceptions,” Harmsen said.
First-year medical student Amanda Benarroch said the recent crime could raise concerns about off-campus housing. Benarroch lived west of Interstate 35-W as an undergraduate, but she said she wouldn’t want to live so far from campus in light of recent crimes.
“I can’t say that I would feel totally comfortable walking [from there], and I felt pretty comfortable before,” she said.
Harmsen said reluctance to live far from school will further increase property values close to campus.
“As a father, you would pay an extra $100 a month to get your daughter five blocks closer.”