Safety and security: Half of surveyed worry about safety on campus

Two+students+pass+a+police+car+as+they+walk+outside+of+Kenwood+Academy+High+School.

Two students pass a police car as they walk outside of Kenwood Academy High School.

Clare McRoberts, Assistant Editor

U-High recently participated in a survey about issues in the upcoming mayoral election. The survey was organized by the Scholastic Press Association of Chicago and the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism. The questions on the survey were created and distributed to the student body by student journalists from 11 private, charter and public high schools around the city.

Participating schools: Jones College Prep, Kenwood Academy High School, Lane Tech College Prep High School, Mather High School, Northside College Prep, Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, Butler College Prep, and Pritzker College Prep

The survey received 1288 responses, 1042 from public and 246 from private schools.

Nearly half of high school students around Chicago say they worry about safety in their schools, and slightly fewer are concerned about violence in their neighborhoods, a new survey of city teens shows. 

The survey, which included the views of U-High students, found that 49% of students were concerned about safety inside their school campuses, while 44.5% of students said they were concerned about violence in their neighborhoods. The remainder were either neutral or not concerned.

The findings about students’ opinions on security and violence were part of a survey tied to the upcoming mayoral election and conducted by student journalists with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Almost 1,300 were surveyed anonymously at 11 public and private high schools throughout the city in December 2022. More than 160 U-High students were surveyed.

“I think that everyone, at some point, has thought about it,” Oliver Wilson, a U-High sophomore who participated in the survey, said of the possibility of gun violence at school.

Students who took part in the survey were divided on what measures, from lockdown drills to security guards, might alleviate their concerns. But no single measure eliminated students’ worries about the potential for violence, according to the survey.

At U-High, the percentage of students concerned about neighborhood violence was similar to students citywide: 69 people said they were concerned about danger, while 35 were unconcerned and 62 were neutral. A number of shooting incidents have been reported in the Hyde Park area in recent years. Last fall, two shootings took place near the Jackson Park Golf Course, leading the U-High golf team to change practice locations. In 2021, a UChicago graduate student was killed in what the authorities described as an attempted armed robbery only blocks from U-High, and a second shooting was reported on 53rd Street, resulting in damage to businesses and parked vehicles.

“Hyde Park isn’t so much a safe place anymore, and you’re starting to see violence spill out from some of the other neighborhoods nearby,” said Connor Booth, a junior who lives in Ravenswood on the North Side, “and so, I think policing has definitely become a much bigger issue to me than it had been in the past.” 

Even students who said they worried about danger in their neighborhoods suggested that solutions were not easy. 

“While I am concerned about safety in my neighborhood,” a U-High junior responded on the survey, “I do not want my answer to be interpreted as a desire for more police presence and surveillance. More police would, in fact, make me feel less safe.”

In terms of safety inside of schools, students around the city expressed ongoing worries, more than two decades since the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado and amid more recent incidents in communities like Uvalde, Texas, and the December 2022 shooting outside of Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen

New federal data from public schools around the country released this month shows schools have significantly increased their security efforts in recent years, including panic buttons and locks on classroom doors.

In Chicago, students who expressed an opinion overwhelmingly supported school security guards. At U-High, 64.7% of students favored them and felt safer having them present; overall, 48.8% of students agreed or strongly agreed that school security guards made them feel safer.

“I have a ton of respect for all the security guards at Lab,” said Connor, who also responded to the survey. “They definitely make me feel safe, but also they’re just great people in general.”

At U-High, students pointed to security personnel as one of the most important reasons why they feel safe in school each day.

“There is safety in knowing that if something were to happen, there’s someone there — a trained professional who would be ready to stop that threat,” Oliver said. “It’s a more feasible solution to the violence, and I think that it’s more effective than hiding under desks during lockdown.”

Lockdown drills, which have become standard practice in schools across the country, are held nine or more times a year in almost a third of the country’s public schools, according to federal data. They drew mixed reactions from the Chicago high school students who were surveyed. 75.2% said that lockdown drills did not make them feel safer. 

“I don’t feel like they’re super necessary or would actually do anything to stop a shooter if they were in the school,” Connor said of lockdown drills.

Initially, the exercises did little but heighten students’ stress, though that has lessened as they’ve become more accustomed to the drills, some U-High students said. 

“Recently, the teachers have let us know if we’re having a lockdown,” Chani Patterson, a U-High sophomore who responded to the survey, said. “I feel like in the past, when we didn’t know we were having a drill, a lot of people would tend to feel very anxious.”