For many, universities are symbols of excellence and higher learning, typically not associated with crimes, let alone violent assaults or murders. This image is perpetuated even more so by Ivy League schools because of their storied histories and reputations as places where future leaders are made. But failing to realize that universities are also representations of society at large can be harmful, and in some cases even deadly.
Cornell has certainly seen its share of violent assaults and deaths since the University opened its doors in 1868. The CUPD reports there have been exactly three homicides on Cornell’s campus in the course of its existence. In fact, Cornell was witness to one of the first deaths caused by fraternity hazing in 1873.
Mortimer M. Leggett ’1877, son of the NY Commissioner of Patents, was pledging the Kappa Alpha Society, when he died. According to The New York Times, Leggett was participating in a fraternity initiation activity that involved being led around a grove by two members, while blind-folded, at night, when they fell into the Six-Mile Creek gorge. The other two boys received serious injuries, but only Leggett died. He suffered a fracture at the base of his skull and a dislocated neck. This was the second-ever documented death due to hazing on a college campus.
An agricultural economics major, Michael Ross ’81, murdered eight victims in total, many of them between the ages of 14 through 17. It was during his senior year at Cornell that he killed his first victim, grad student Dzung Ngoc Tu. He raped seven of his victims and strangled all of his victims, including Tu. After raping Tu, he tossed her body off of the Triphammer Footbridge.
The police were initially stumped by this case and thought she had fallen off the Thurston Avenue Bridge or committed suicide. In the spring of 1981, there was a string of rapes reported on campus, according to CNN. According to Cornell Alumni Magazine, some students were convinced that her death was linked to the rapes on campus, but no one knew how. The Alumni Magazine revealed that only “years later, authorities would learn that Ross had been working at a student job grading papers in Warren Hall on the night she disappeared,” where Tu was last seen reading a newspaper.
After Ross graduated in 1981, the rapes stopped on campus but Ross went on a killing spree for three years that spanned New York and Connecticut, murdering two women in New York and six in the Connecticut. The police finally caught up with Ross when he was arrested in 1984.
In 1987, he was sentenced to die after he was convicted for the murders of Robin Stavinsky, April Brunais, Wendy Baribeault and Leslie Shelley in eastern Connecticut.
Ross was executed in May 2005. His name made the headlines again — this was New England’s first execution in 45 years.
The 1980s proved to be tough years for Cornell’s security reputation. Just a couple of years after Tu’s murder, 26-year-old Suh Yong Kim marched into Low Rise 7 on North Campus in 1983 and fatally shot Young Hee Suh ’87 and Erin Nieswand ’87. Kim was Suh’s ex-boyfriend. Kim had initially taken five additional hostages, but Suh was able to convince him to let everyone go but herself and her roommate. Kim kept Suh and Niewswand hostage before shooting them. He is currently in custody, according to the New York State Department of Corrections.
From then until 2006, there were relatively few incidents of violence that upended the image of Cornell as a tranquil place.
In February 2006, Nathan Poffenbarger ’08, stabbed Charles Holiday, a black Union College student on West Campus after he was kicked out of a party for using racial slurs and acting belligerently, according to Sun archives. Poffenbarger was heard yelling racial epithets leading up to the incident.
This past summer, newlywed Blazej Kot was charged for killing his wife, after he slit her throat. Caroline Coffey was found dead in Taughannock Falls State Park. Police also found their apartment set on fire. Kot was a 24-year-old grad student studying to complete a Ph.D. in Information Science at Cornell, while Coffey was a biomedical researcher. If Kot is convicted, he will face up to 25 years in prison.
Cornell is not the only Ivy League university to experience such tragedies. Harvard has also had its fair share of violent assaults and murders that have attracted the media’s attention over the years.
From 1849 to 1850, the nation was gripped by the murder of Dr. George Parkman, a member of one of the wealthiest families in Boston at the time. He vanished and one week later, a janitor found body parts hidden in the chemistry lab of Prof. John W. Webster. Parkman had apparently loaned money to colleague Webster and on the night of his murder went to collect repayment of the loan from him. Webster proclaimed his innocence, but was convicted of Parkman’s murder and sentenced to hanging.
When Sinedu Tadesse was a junior at Harvard in 1995, she stabbed her roommate, Trang Phuong Ho, 45 times, before hanging herself in the bathroom. Apparently, Tadesse, whose mental health was beginning to deteriorate, was upset that Ho had announced she was going to room with other girls for their senior year.
This year, Justin Cosby, was shot and killed in a dormitory on Harvard’s campus, related to a drug-related robbery. Three suspects have already been apprehended and indicted for the killing. Neither Cosby nor any of the suspects attended the university, but were believed to be linked to the Harvard campus drug trade.
Just this last August, someone attempted to poison six Harvard microbiologists by putting sodium azide in the group coffee machine. The researchers who drank the coffee were sent to the hospital.
Yale was in the media recently when Yale grad student Annie Le’s murder made headlines all over the country after her body was found stuffed in a wall on her wedding day. Le, who was studying pharmacology, worked alongside her alleged killer, Raymond Clark III, who was an animal research technician. The New Haven police are calling this incident a case of “workplace violence.”
Le’s murder brought back memories of the murder of Suzanne Jovin, a senior at Yale University, who in 1988 was stabbed 17 times in the back of her throat and neck after dropping off one of the final copies of her senior thesis. Her throat was also slit. Her killer was never found, and the case remains unsolved.
At the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, economics professor Rafael Robb, bludgeoned his 49-year-old wife Ellen to death beyond the point of recognition. Robb was seeking a divorce from her husband at the time.
Certainly, environment does play a factor in how some of these crimes are perpetrated. In a university setting, would-be perpetrators have access to a lot of potential victims in a highly concentrated area, especially on campuses where most students are residents.
It does appear that assaults on campus are not only becoming more common — or, at least, they are reported more often. But what is also problematic is that the severity of recent attacks appears to have also increased.
Jonathan Kassa, executive director of Security on Campus, commented that colleges and universities are microcosms of society at large, and see both the good and the bad aspects of it. But it is only until recently that crimes occurring on campus are being reported more.
“There’s an increased visibility now. [In the 23-year history of SOC], it certainly seems like there is an uptick in violent crime, but that’s subjectively speaking. We’re going to have to wait to see the data after 2009. Overall, campus crime has been consistent,” he said. “[But] certainly this semester is like no other in my career and SOC’s history.”
Kassa added, “From the start of this semester there’s been one or two [violent] crimes every week that's been on campus or nearby in the community.”
For instance, in October, a UCLA student stabbed his lab partner in the throat at an on campus chemistry lab. He has been charged with attempted murder in her attack. At the University of Connecticut, popular football player Jasper Howard was fatally stabbed outside of a school dance.
And it was just less than three years ago when the mentally ill Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech. These murders on April 16, 2007 marked the deadliest shooting in peacetime of a single gunman in the United States — on or off school property.
These incidents are just some of the more notable reports of violence on college campuses that were heard around the nation. Even though there does appear to be a spike in the number of violent assaults on campuses, it is worth examining how the certain social changes have influenced this culture of violence, not just in society in large, but on campuses as well.
Corey Earle ’07, associate director of student programs in the alumni office and former Sun columnist, said that generally the University tries to steer clear of the negative publicity that stems from on-campus crime and crime in the community. This is a perfectly understandable concern. If a college is associated with crimes, some students might be dissuaded from attending school there. But one only has to look at UCLA, UConn and Virginia Tech to know that’s not always true.
However, ones hopes that, in the quest to present one’s college as a pristine image of academia in order to attract more students, a college does not conceal its crime statistics. While students are apt to take notice about the horrific incidents of violence on school campuses, such as murders and school shootings, college students may be less likely to pay attention to lesser crime son campus that are more prevalent such as petty theft.
Dr. Howard Robboy, a sociology professor at The College of New Jersey, traces this problem to the evolution of the university into a business where its public image has taken precedence over its “academic image.”
Additionally, Robboy stated in an e-mail that “as part of this process, many college officials want to project an image of their institutions as being ‘safe campuses’ even though there are no safe campuses. One way to accomplish this is hide, minimize and / or under report crimes as well as issuing few if any sanctions against their student perpetrators.”
He said that many colleges think, “Well, how can we deal with crimes and still protect our institutional image? We won't punish students, we'll educate them.” He also stated that colleges will go to great lengths to protect their reputation even if that means allowing students who commit certain crimes to stay on campus, instead of letting the legal system deal with them.
Robboy makes a point that colleges have a dual justice system to protect their students, but also their reputation. He stated that when one student sexually assaults another student, the felon could be redefined as having a mental illness by the college and the student perpetrator is recommended for counseling. If a non-student sexually assaults a student, the perpetrator will be prosecuted as a felon in the local justice system.
This has problematic implications for the student who may have suffered an assault and is reminded of the event when he or she sees their assailant on campus.
However, universities and colleges across the country are bound to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The Clery Act requires schools to provide three different types of records: an annual statistical report, a daily campus crime long and “timely reports” regarding crimes that present an ongoing threat to the community, according to the Student Press Law Center.
Cornell has come under fire recently by members of its community for issues with the last prong of the act that stipulates that the University provide information about crimes in a timely manner. For example, last month when Marc Jackson ’10 was stabbed and robbed on North Campus around 10:30 at night, the University did not send out an e-mail alert until three hours after the event happened.
Yvonne Robbes ’12 was quoted in The Sun last month that students should have been informed of the incident as soon as it happened.
But not all students feel this way.
“I think CUPD has done a good job reporting [crimes],” said Kean Hartling ’10. “As far as I know they only do those bulletins, which while vague I guess keep us aware. [But] you never know if any of these people ever get caught or anything like that. ... I guess that’d be something interesting to know."
Petty theft, robbery, larceny and burglary are some of the more common crimes on campus and make up 30 percent of all crimes experienced according to the American College Health Association Campus Violence White Paper.
Though violent and sexual assaults are rare in comparison to other crimes such as petty theft, the statistics for sexual assault would make any person concerned. The White Paper found that 20 to 25 percent of women are expected to be the victims of an attempted or completed forcible rape. Robboy sees sexual assaults as a growing area of crime on college campuses and an area that colleges will need to be more vigilant about monitoring and preventing.
Prior to actually engaging in violent sexual assaults and murders, Ross — the Cornell-bred serial killer — exhibited classic predatory behavior as an undergrad, stalking women and terrorizing them, and deriving pleasure from their fear.
Last year, George Phillip Duroseau, a Cornell University student, was convicted of misdemeanor charges of forcible touching and second-degree unlawful imprisonment, after he admitted to molesting a woman and holding her down in her apartment.
Cornell’s history of violence is not complete without mention the terror caused by the Collegetown Creeper. Abraham Shorey, who is allegedly responsible for 20 break-ins and assaults on women between 2003 and 2004. The City of Ithaca had pursued charges against Shorey, but they were dropped as the lapse of time between his indictment in 2004 and his capture in 2006 caused the case against Shorey to grow weaker, according to Sun archives. Key witnesses in the case graduated and relocated.
For Cornell’s part, like almost all other colleges, it has a policy in the books under section 6.3 of the University’s Policy Volumes that notes the University will not tolerate rape, sexual abuse or sexual assault of any kind against students, staff, faculty or visitors. The policy also states “In an ongoing effort to prevent sexual assaults on the Cornell campus, the university provides education and prevention programs for the Cornell community; pursues all complaints of sexual assault; dispenses disciplinary action where appropriate; and provides complainants with information on pursuing criminal or other legal action.”
The last time Cornell came under scrutiny for mishandling an assault was back in 2008 when a sophomore girl claimed that she was raped and accused the University of mishandling the case by turning it into a drug problem. The University also got the girl’s parents involved.
According to Sun archives, deputy University spokesman Simeon Moss ’73 told The Sun at the time that “it is a policy to contact parents when someone is in danger to oneself or others, and cases that question the student’s continued enrollment in the University.”
Moss also explained it is left to the Office of the Dean of Students’ discretion, along with a support team, to decide to release the detail’s a student’s case to his or her parents.
Some of the factors that could potentially influence a student’s propensity for violence can be found in certain changes that our society has undergone in recent decades.
There is no dispute now that even though we are more technologically connected, some are concerned this is hurting our ability to actually interact with people in person. It also raises the scenario that someone could easily isolate him or herself.
Isolation seems to be a common theme in examining some of the factors that lead to increased violence in certain individuals. This can be problematic for undergrad students who may be away from home for the first time and not have an established support network. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, this situation can be more prevalent amongst grad students who often have to log extensive hours doing research in isolated conditions and lack some of the traditional support networks that undergrads have like dorm mates and Greek organizations.
Despite all of the recent incidents on college campuses, many researchers and college health advocates state that there is no reason to fear and that violence on college campuses has occurred consistently throughout history, including at Ivy League schools. But now there is an increased visibility surrounding the problem, which explains why we see higher numbers of crimes reported.
Donna Barry, chair of the American College Health Association Campus Violence Coalition, said, “We have to see the tragic events that occurred recently in perspective when we look at violence on campus and [have to] recognize these event occur. They are a reflection of the world and we are not isolated from these type of events. But overall, the college campuses are one of the safest environments for students to be.”
Frankie Lacayo ’11 agrees, “That type of stuff happens all the time and you have to look into it further to say it’s a growing problem.”
The original article stated that Suh Yong Kim shot himself after shooting two girls on North Campus. In fact, he is still alive and currently in a New York State Correctional Facility.