Symposium to seek solutions to campus violence

Middlesex DA calls session for college officials

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / October 25, 2010

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Law enforcement officials and administrators from local colleges plan to meet today to brainstorm ways to confront violent crime on college campuses, following a recent series of assaults, including a fatal stabbing.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone, who organized the symposium, said the discussions will center not only on campus security but also on the work of school administrators who handle college culture and social life. He believes they can do more to identify and report crime.

“It’s the deans, it’s the presidents, it’s the vice presidents,’’ Leone said. “There’s a certain level of inappropriate behavior they can handle on their own, but there is a level above that where there are crimes, criminal action that is happening.’’

Representatives from the roughly 20 colleges in Middlesex County are expected to attend the symposium, including Harvard, MIT, Boston University, and Boston College.

The symposium, to be held from 9 to 11 a.m. at Leone’s offices in Woburn, follows the stabbing Wednesday of a restaurant worker on the MIT campus in Cambridge. The victim, who suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, was not a student. The victim was involved in a fight with a co-worker, who also was not a student.

The stabbing was the latest incident to bring violence into sharp focus in campus life.

On Sept. 24, a Boston College student was stabbed during a fight with nonstudents whom he had told they were not welcome at a party on campus. The day before, a Waltham teenager was fatally stabbed during a fight that started in a dorm and spilled out into a parking lot at Regis College in Weston.

While those cases made headlines, law enforcement officials said they see many violent incidents that don’t make the news. The week before the Regis College stabbing, a Mount Ida College student was charged with threatening to shoot students on campus. On Sept. 30, a man, not a student, was arrested at Lasell College for waving a BB gun during a fight.

Earlier this year, two women were charged with stabbing a student in her dorm room at Bentley University. And Harvard University was shocked in May 2009 when a nonstudent was shot and killed in a dorm room in connection with a drug deal that went bad.

“The anecdotes are about serious, violent incidents going on in college campuses,’’ Leone said in an interview. He said many factors can be at play in the violence, pointing out that college students leaving home for the first time often experiment with alcohol and drugs.

Today’s agenda includes discussions on how college administrators can play a role in preventing violent incidents, by getting to know students on campus and being familiar with their activities, as well as identifying and reporting crimes.

“Student affairs folks in many cases are a lot closer to the student community,’’ said John M. King, director of public safety and police chief at Boston College. “They interact a bit more frequently with students and therefore could be a helpful conduit in getting information to the student community.’’

King said last month’s stabbing was atypical for the campus, but “when the unusual happens, it’s certainly disruptive to the community. Fear occurs, anxiety occurs, and that needs to be addressed to make our community feel safer.’’

Mary Jane Doherty, special assistant to Regis College president Mary Jane England, said England will attend with the school’s dean of students, Kara Kolomotiz, and its dean of student life and ministry, Sister Rosemary Mulvihill.

Doherty said the college has boosted security since last month’s stabbing. She also said administrators have embraced Leone’s call for school officials to be more mindful of student life and activities, saying that learning responsibility should be part of the college experience.

“When a student comes to college, he or she comes for the academic lessons but there are social life lessons as part of becoming part of the community,’’ she said. “I think that’s one of the reasons the incident on this campus was so shocking to us.’’

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