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Crime a factor in DePaul decision day

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(Katie Tamosiunas / The DePaulia)

After five years of being here, Chicago changed Luke Rolling in the ways he expected it to. His Iowan demeanor and the Midwestern hospitality that he was accustomed to wouldn’t fit in with the big city he hoped to realize his dreams in.

“I knew that I would likely see a lot of things I wouldn’t see at home — I’d likely experience a lot of dangers I wouldn’t experience at home. I was prepared for it,” the 22-year-old DePaul alumnus said.

But the moments he let his guard down — when his willingness to help strangers got the best of him — forced him to face one thing he said no one can be prepared for: being assaulted, and in his case, on two separate occasions.

Rolling was assaulted his sophomore year after chasing down a robber who stole a phone from his friend, and was then punched in the face once they both reached a dead end. During his junior year, in Boystown, he was approached by two people he thought were tourists, gave them directions, and turned around to being sprayed in the face with mace, held at gunpoint and robbed.

Rolling was one of 2,458 incoming freshmen in 2011 and one of 17 incoming freshmen from Iowa. In Dubuque where Rolling is from specifically, there were 82 assaults compared to Chicago’s 13,975 that year, according to reports from City Data. It was a big change — one that Rolling and his parents had little to no discussion about.

When he moved here, his mom, Terri Rolling, wasn’t concerned for his safety like she is now, largely because the Lincoln Park area and DePaul’s campus itself seemed extracted from the rest of the “big bad city” that many non-native Chicagoans, including Rolling’s family, see Chicago to be.

As of May 1 this year, 2,600 parents have committed to sending their kids off to this city, a rough and somewhat changing estimate from David Kalsbeek of the DePaul’s Enrollment Management and Marketing. And while perhaps all of them are excited for the next chapter in their children’s’ lives, many of them have also expressed concern for their safety on a DePaul Parents Facebook page in light of recent crimes, including an assault of a student on the Blue Line and a sexual assault near DePaul’s Loop campus.

One post reads:

“I was eager to join this group, but my excitement quickly turned to fear and anxiety upon immediately seeing the posts regarding recent crimes. I know Chicago has significant crime but I guess I assumed it was specific to certain parts of the city and that Lincoln Park is relatively safe.”

The assumption that Lincoln Park is relatively safe is clearly not unfounded — in the past 30 days, the neighborhood ranked 59 out of 77 in the Chicago Tribune’s neighborhood crime analysis, meaning there are only 18 neighborhoods in Chicago that are safer.

Group member and soon-to-be DePaul parent Maria-Theresia Sillber cited Lincoln Park as a main contributor to the “peace of mind” she feels sending her son Christopher Sillber to DePaul in the fall. The campus and Lincoln Park put Terri Rolling’s mind to complete rest.

Still, though, crime happens anywhere — also in the past 30 days, there have been 10 violent crimes in Lincoln Park, including four sexual assaults and two assaults. On campus specifically, since the beginning of fall quarter, there have been 11 sexual assaults and nine batteries reported to Public Safety, the office that goes over general trends and crime statistics during orientation.

In a response to recent Facebook posts on the DePaul Parents page, the Office of New Student and Family Engagement wrote:

“I know this can be tough to see as you/your student aren’t even here yet, but they’ll have the opportunity to see the neighborhoods of Chicago in their Chicago Quarter course. It’s not so much about location as action for students to keep in mind as they’re learning about the city.”

This concept of action versus location resonates with Sillber, who herself went to school in an urban setting and says she was mugged during her time there.

“There’s always going to be crime in an urban setting and it’s something that I think it’s important as a parent that you discuss with your child before they go. They should always be aware of that and take the right steps,” Sillber said.

Director of Public Safety Bob Wachowski has stressed preparedness multiple times to The DePaulia, stating that having a plan of action is key to stay safe. In response to enrollment numbers in light of recent crimes, he referenced resources made available to students at orientation and throughout their time here, including Student Affairs, Residential Education, University Counseling Services, Dean of Students office, Health Promotion and Wellness and Title IX Coordinator.

“Like many Chicagoans, we are aware of and troubled by the crime in our community,” Wachowski added. “Being an urban campus, DePaul University works closely with the Chicago Police Department to deter crime on campus, and we provide tips throughout the year to students, faculty and staff on staying safe.” 

Parents like Sillber and Terri Rolling are sympathetic to DePaul’s efforts, though, noting the difficulty of managing the safety of students with the backdrop of a city where crimes is prevalent. Sillber thinks the responsibility lies with parents to prepare their students for inevitable crime, and Terri Rolling believes that her son has been afforded more opportunities in Chicago than he would have in a rural environment.

And Rolling agrees. He completed three internships, was a tour guide for a Chicago tour company and now has a job in government relations, something he has envisioned for himself since freshman year. Despite his frightening experiences in the city, he says it’s worth it.

“I came in saying bad things happen to people everyday and if you only look at it like that and you don’t take any risks, you’re never going to do anything,” Rolling said. “It was a calculated risk, a risk I was willing to take, and I ended up coming out on the wrong end of it. But would I do it again? Yeah, I’d do it again.”

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Crime a factor in DePaul decision day