Fascinating observation about race and our perceptions

I’m a long time CC’er, so I must be dense that I just realized this today.

Why is it that a college in a low income area (urban, rural or suburban) gets a pass if the surrounding neighborhoods are mostly white, but a college in a low income area with minority neighborhoods gets described as a “slum”, a “dangerous area”, etc?

It is fascinating to me that these descriptions don’t seem at all based on public information regarding violent crime, i.e. “how dangerous” the area actually is. And that the “warnings” never come with actual data-- i.e. most sex crimes on campus are student/student crimes, not stranger/student, many (not all) crimes on campus are student/student like stealing an unsecured laptop from a dorm lounge or an unattended wallet in the library, etc.

I’ve seen neighborhoods I’ve lived in which have multi-million dollar homes and apartments described as slums here on CC- without much pushback. And yet I’ve also lived in some non-urban areas, with mostly white populations, where the economic activity is check-cashing establishments and fast food joints, a very high percentage of the population is unemployed, and the rates of addiction and overdose are extremely high. But those neighborhoods aren’t slums for some reason?

Nobody is warning kids away from those rural colleges–even when they are in depressed regions, why? Because the poor people in the area are white and therefore are incapable of being scary to a college kid?

Just something to think about. And for posters to be aware that if someone has grown up in a diverse place, NYU, Georgetown, BU, Columbia and other urban colleges are hardly “slums”, just because the population isn’t mostly white around those campuses.


Similar observations could be made about how many colleges themselves are perceived, at least those outside of the “top _” prestige rankings. For example, consider the perception of UAH and AAMU on these forums.


Do you believe people think the areas around these school are “slums”? Georgetown is an incredibly affluent area, NYU is in a great part of NYC, the area around Columbia and BU are also nice. Temple has its challenges. If you’re interested in attending an urban school you need to have street smarts about city life regardless of what city you’re in, but I can’t think of an urban school that I’d consider to be in a “slum”. And certainly none of the schools mentioned have any difficulty attracting students. If anything the urban locations are a draw for many.

However, that being said most urban areas have higher crime rates than rural areas so maybe that’s part of the analysis?

My DIL graduated from Georgetown. I guess I have limited circles, but I’ve yet to hear anyone call the area around it a slum, nor did it seem to be one when we went to her graduation.

Temple definitely has its reputation here in PA. Pitt doesn’t.

Drexel is in the same city as Temple and turns many of our rural kids off too. Not one has mentioned race or “slums” though. They tend to say they don’t like the way it is located in the city. George Washington is another that can turn our rural kids off by being totally integrated into the city. Schools that have “bubbles” (distinct campuses) tend to be liked better. U Rochester comes to mind as an example.

I think you may have an interesting point, but I am having trouble proving it with the colleges you mentioned.

Maybe we could come up with some low income PA and ME towns (mostly white) where colleges reside and compare that to colleges in non-white lower income areas like New Orleans. Problem is it feels like an urban vs. rural discussion and not a white/non-white.

It’s easy enough to look up crime statistics for most schools and their local area. I’ve been to colleges where the area close to the school doesn’t interest me one bit. Sometimes the area has nothing at all to do with crime and sometimes it’s just not a fit, too rural, too urban, not connected to transportation, not enough culture/restaurants etc.
I think assuming comments based on a bad area are based on race isn’t grounded in fact( Or should be pointed out and reported to CC). Maybe it’s your perception based on your assumptions and not those of the entire CC. So I don’t see a “fascinating observation about race and our perceptions” at all.
Many students are seeking their best fit. Some kids don’t like hills or open areas or don’t want to be in a cold climate, etc, etc, etc. My kids and their friends are all looking for a great program, size and fit. Many kids are actually seeking schools with a large and diverse group of students. Many are also looking at urban areas.

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It is the perceived risk of mugging, rape, violent assault, and even murder. Having attended two very fine institutions of higher education that were situated in high crime, African American inner-city neighborhoods, and having spent over a dozen years living off campus in the high crime areas near those schools, I can attest to the correctness of the perceived risk. But while in training, I also came into extensive contact with the residents of an extremely poor white area of that city, and I can say that I probably would have been just as nervous, had I been living in the neighborhood from which they came. It was later featured on national news as having the largest open air drug market in the US.

I wouldn’t want my kids to live in any of the places that I lived in while I was in school, nor would I want them to live in that city’s area of concentrated, profound white poverty, either.

You can’t compare the Upper West Side, even as far north as Columbia and Barnard, to North Philly. Totally different environments. The far Upper West Side is highly gentrified, and North Philly is not. Although unfortunately, things have again gotten worse around Columbia/Barnard, as last year’s murder in Morningside Park confirmed. There were muggings and assaults being reported around Juilliard last year, too, so it’s not as if any area of Manhattan is completely safe.

I don’t know if anyone can cite an example of a college located in a very high crime area, where the surrounding neighborhood is mostly white. But the fact is, I wouldn’t want my child going there, either.

It is weird that some people are getting so defensive.

If, when racism is mentioned, a person’s first response is a knee-jerk reaction of “NO, how dare they accuse ME of racism!”, some self-reflection is probably needed.

@blossom mentioned a fact that the perception of the safety of an area is often tied not only to perceived poverty, but to the racial makeup of the area.

The fabric of USA society is deeply embedded with racism, whether we like it or not, just as antisemitism is embedded in every aspect of European society and culture (and it still affects the USA). That means that it will pop up in all types of places in all types of ways.

Anybody who was born before the late 1980s grew up with popular culture which was both explicitly and implicitly racist. Racial and ethnic stereotypes abounded on books, Radio, TV, and Movies until the late 1990s. In fact, few minority characters in popular media were NOT stereotypical. It is almost impossible to believe that the Boomers, Gen-Xers and older Millennials who grew up with this didn’t internalize these stereotypes.

Unless a person is a paragon of tolerance and the most self-aware person on the face of the Earth, these stereotypes will affect their perception of the world. So, if somebody tell a person that their perception is being affected by underlying acceptance of stereotypes, it is always worth consideration.

Having these stereotypes in your subconscious doesn’t make a person a KKK member or a howling racist, it just makes them normal humans.

Regarding @blossom’s observation - it is, in fact, true that the in popular media, and even more so in the news, “dangerous” areas are portrayed as being predominantly areas with a majority minority population.

It may be, as others have indicated, that it is because urban poverty and crime is covered more widely than rural poverty and crime. There are likely many reasons for this, from the fact that urban poverty is perceived by the middle class of upper class as more of an issue than rural poverty, or/and because urban poverty is easier to cover than rural poverty.

It also may be because colleges in poor urban or suburban areas tend to be more physically embedded in the poor communities than rural colleges are embedded in poverty stricken rural areas, and so are not as easy for the parents and students to ignore and avoid the areas perceived as dangerous (many which are, indeed, dangerous) areas.

It also may be racism. As I wrote above, we all have those stereotypes that we grew up with, and they do affect how we perceive people, as well as how we perceive the potential threats from people.


Do you have a specific example? Such as 2 colleges with similar urban/rural and other characteristics besides race, with one getting a pass and the other being described as “slum” / “dangerous”?

Data source for this claim? I don’t recall NYU, Georgetown, BU, and Columbia described as being in slums.

I read all of the replies before this and must be missing the" knee-jerk reaction of “NO, how dare they accuse ME of racism!”,

To whom are you referring?


Columbia used to be in a bad neighborhood, but the area was gentrifying when I was living in NYC in the early to mid 90’s. Reputations die hard. If NYU and BU were in bad areas, it must have been a very long time ago. I was on the BU campus in 1976, and while I thought the campus itself was weird, I loved the area it was in.

I went to grad school at USC in the late 80’s. I’ve always scratched my head at the description of the area around USC as a dangerous ghetto. The neighborhood around USC doesn’t come close to being as bad as some of the neighborhoods in my Ohio hometown were.

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I’m sorry but I find it hard to categorize everything through a single racist lens.

There are so many factors in observations about a campus. I’ve lived in big cities, small towns rural areas and suburbs around the world. People are people. There is crime everywhere. There are instances of injustice, inequity and other negatives in every place. The world is not perfection but it is still beautiful.

It’s fine if some want to put everything into a racist bucket. But please realize that that is one perception/narrative and a recent one at that. Many other folks prefer to look at the world through a multitude of lenses in order to get a better and more nuanced picture of what is going on.


Not a single lens. Crime is everywhere, but the tendency here seems to be to describe inner city campuses (often with a large non-white population) in different terms than a similarly challenged area with a large white population.

That doesn’t make posters racist. But there seems to be a trope about certain colleges (the most recent post I read was about Trinity- but there are regular posts about the colleges I’ve already referenced) that seems disproportionate to actual data around crimes, poverty, how often students are victimized.

Rich- on CC Columbia and Barnard are often described as being in a dangerous neighborhood. And anyone who would describe Georgetown as being “dangerous” has not tried to rent an affordable apartment there in the last 15 years!

And be aware- before you tell a kid who might actually be a member of said minority group- that Hartford is “Scary” or that Fordham is “dangerous” or that you wouldn’t take public transportation in XYZ city by yourself- that you might be succumbing to an unconscious bias.

“It is the perceived risk of mugging, rape, violent assault, and even murder. Having attended two very fine institutions of higher education that were situated in high crime, African American inner-city neighborhoods, and having spent over a dozen years living off campus in the high crime areas near those schools, I can attest to the correctness of the perceived risk”.

I’m not sure about “the correctness of the perceived risk” and since I’m neither a criminologist nor an epidemiologist, I can’t do an analysis of which campus has more mortality/crimes than another. But your post sort of proves my point- why didn’t you cite a high crime neighborhood and leave it at that- it had to be an African American neighborhood?


Is an example that this house is across the street from UChicago but the area is considered bad?

Seems that Georgia Tech is one of the more common colleges mentioned as being near a “bad neighborhood”. It does appear to sit on a “residential segregation boundary” within the city of Atlanta, where the racial composition of the nearby areas differs greatly depending on which direction from the campus you go.


@Blossom Perhaps it would be better to cite individual or multiple instances on CC that fall into your thesis of race and perceptions. I haven’t seen these assumptions. Perhaps they are on many/multiple threads.

What I was saying is to think more broadly since you might be inferring that race is the key and maybe it’s more complex? But then again it’s hard to talk about a perception you don’t share. And I don’t share your “fascinating observation about race”

I’ve asked a few times about U Chicago. I’ve heard that crime is rampant. I have no idea where the campus is located, the makeup of the people in the neighborhood or the underlying issues having never been to Chicago. But crime comes up a lot. Should those questions not be asked on CC without checking the racial make-up of the area in question? Or should it be asked only in the context of a racial question? Or is there something else that piques you when crime or the topic of bad neighborhoods is brought up.

Seems to be that broadly speaking issues of crime are connected to the society at large and might encompass race but are rarely just about a singular topic although if you listen to some that’s their singular focus.

Happy- what is a bad neighborhood?

That’s my question. And again- you seem to think that I’m missing the complexity/I have a singular focus on race. That’s clearly not the case- I mentioned that I’ve been on CC for years and only now noticed the pattern.

And what is “rampant crime”? Is it the theft of a wallet or laptop left in an unlocked dorm room while someone dashes to the bathroom- where there is a high probability (since the dorm itself has security and only another college student has access to the hallways) that the criminal is a fellow student? There are lots of colleges where this is commonplace. But it’s only “rampant crime” it seems when the surrounding neighborhood is what’s troubling.

Is a campus where women are routinely sexually assaulted at parties (by fellow students) not a place with rampant crime? Is a campus where some students have made a tidy fortune by selling drugs to classmates not a place with rampant crime? Seems to me that a particular student is much more “at risk” living on a campus where students victimize other students- especially since those crimes are likely under-reported and under-prosecuted.

Just food for thought.


All those things you describe constitute crime. The degrees matter.

Personally, I’d be very concerned about violent crime ( murders, rape, home invasions, car jackings, and any physical assault) and also some drug sales( though it depends in that category). I’d have less concern about stolen laptops or crimes in which physical force isn’t used. That’s me. Someone else might have another definition.
Another layer I’d add is what are the trends? Are things improving or is it likely that violent crimes go unpunished or the police don’t respond? Yes, I’d definitely add in how the college responds as well. Do they have minimal security? Maximum security? How do they prosecute students who do violent crimes? How are they working with their local police? So many questions to consider, IMO. I don’t see it as racial. More as socio-economic.

Universities report crimes on campus and surrounding areas by type of crime, so it is not some racial stereotype of dangerous surroundings-most of the colleges people mentioned as being in bad areas do indeed have crime reports of sexual assault and physical battery higher than other colleges. Those who are concerned can research it. I would think minority students would be just as likely to be victims of violent crime as others, so I too don’t really see the racial element in this. Perhaps colleges in bad areas that are rural have different types of dysfunction which don’t worry students as much-maybe lots of meth abuse or domestic abuse or suicide or whatever. Students may correctly feel those do not present a threat to their safety.