Ohio State University: Students turn to research project to analyze campus-area crime

At the same time crime in the University District was attracting headlines this semester, students at The Ohio State University were focusing their classroom skills on understanding crime in their neighborhood and the fear it can cause.

Students in Associate Professor Deanna Wilkinson’s class developed research projects focused on the impact of crime on and around the Columbus campus. Wilkinson is a criminologist and expert on urban youth violence, illegal firearms use and violence prevention in the Department of Human Sciences.

“The aim of the course is to help students learn how to conduct and evaluate social science research and how to apply it to human development and family science,” said Alli Marchese, a fourth-year human development & family science major. “So our class structure and syllabus allows us to have a greater opportunity for real-world applications.”

The projects were presented in class this month as university leaders, including Senior Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers and Jay Kasey, senior vice president, Office of Administration and Planning, listened. Shivers and Kasey led the university’s Task Force on Community Safety and Well-Being.

After a rigorous review process, students conducted a survey of more than 360 of their peers, asking an array of questions to gauge student concerns about crime in the campus area.

“We wanted to be intentional in every decision we made and what to include in the survey,” said Tess Thompson, a third-year majoring in both human development and family science and sport industry.

Students also conducted peer interviews and literature reviews to draw conclusions for individual projects.

Examining crime and the impact of crime from a variety of angles, some students focused their projects on how the fear of crime impacts women and racial minorities differently. One project explored the use of mindfulness to combat the anxiety that results from crime or the fear of crime.

Students also examined the role of media and how it influenced the perception of crime and crime risk. Malaak Saleh, a fourth-year human development and family science major, studied the use of social media and news consumption by students and how it can lead to them feeling unsafe.

“Basically, we need a more effective way to give awareness to the crime that happens near campus,” Saleh said.

It’s an issue Ohio State is taking seriously. Kasey said the university is looking at new ways to alert students to crime in the community that is timely but accurate as well.

Wilkinson said she was impressed with the approach her students took to investigate an issue that was so important to them.

“From this immersion research class, my students learned to use scientific inquiry to make sense of and chip away at wicked problems,” she said. “Watching them step into their power as problem solvers was a highlight of my teaching career.”