Speaking Out

Meeting the Challenge of Crime

Crime, its causes, preventatives and cures, is a challenge. Crime should be a challenge to us at Penn to engage our incredibly rich lode of human capital to work on the research/teaching/action agenda demanded by this most intractable of issues before our society.

Every one of the University's twelve schools and most of its departments can gain from and contribute to such an agenda. And it must take in as partners our geographical neighbors, the city, state, nation and even those many international interests we have.

The continuing serious crimes on and near the campus, the anger of students and their parents and the expensive promises by administrators to deal with the situation should come as no surprise: these are signs of the times and Penn is not unique in what is happening.

Signs of the times? When we are told the economy is doing well while more than 40 million Americans live below the poverty line; when our economy depends on a 5.5% unemployment rate to remain "healthy"; when suicide rates for teenagers in all population groups are soaring; when half of young African American males are in some negative relationship with legal institutions; when one-half of all African American children live in poverty.

This is a time for action: to take a holistic view of what needs to be done and how we can organize ourselves to do it. Penn's dedication to and expertise in research and teaching and other knowledge-building enterprises can all be enhanced through a concerted effort to contribute towards the solution of what creates crime and what contributes to its prevention and eradication. Security is essential to our continuation as a community; a concerted and sustained effort will help us and can contribute to the national and international scene.

Some proposals of my own: Instead of building prisons to boost the economy of American towns, build institutions to reclaim the environment, relevant educational efforts and rebuild America's worn-out infrastructure: instead of bombed-out center cities and growing rings of suburbia, plan rational continua of urban/suburban/rural land use; instead of NIH research only for the preservation of the body, NIH research on the quality of life for all socioeconomic groups and all ages. (And implementation of good research need not always be costly: in Uganda I found that more than half a million children orphaned by the civil war and AIDS have been absorbed by their extended families, subsidized modestly by their impoverished government, instead of being housed in costly new orphanages as our Speaker of the House proposed for children of "welfare" families in America!)

We need help on new issues arising out of the great and potentially exciting and enriching influx of immigrants. Why is attention given only to those perceived as cleverly taking advantage of our open society, when alongside them come thousands of the intellegentsia who could offer whole new ways of thinking about some of these problems?

A suggestion for immediate action is that Almanac provide a forum for University community constituents: faculty, students, administrators, staff and people among whom we live in this part of Philadelphia as well as the city and state. The Forum would serve to identify what we already know and are doing and to generate ideas for research/teaching/action on attacking the roots of crime, treatment of the effects of crime and methods of prevention as well as immediate containment of crime.

We are all related to crime in many ways as citizens, residents, consumers, frightened pedestrians. Now I challenge us all to take it seriously as an appropriate and possible society-saving issue for our academic pursuit.

-- Louise P. Shoemaker
Professor and Dean Emeritus, School of Social Work

Almanac's Board Chair responds:

Without waiting for a structured Forum, Speaking Out welcomes any contributions on matters of direct concern to the University. For a wider discussion, potentially involving the larger community as proposed by Professor Shoemaker, the Center for Community Partnerships has been proposed as a facilitator, and its director, Ira Harkavy, has agreed. Those who wish to particpate in an ongoing forum may thus write directly to Almanac [see ] or contact Dr. Harkavy at the Office of Community Partnerships.

--Martin Pring, Physiology/Med


Volume 43 Number 7
October 8, 1996

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