COLUMBUS, Ohio — Homecoming weekend at The Ohio State University means crowds filled with students, parents, alumni and visitors.
Some worry that the increase in people could bring along with it an increase in crime. Others think it will make zero difference.
“I don’t think the criminals care whether it’s a homecoming weekend or not,” said Paige Khoury, who has a freshman son at OSU. “They’re still there. They’re still there burglarizing, stealing, terrorizing the neighborhoods. So, being that it’s homecoming weekend, for me, doesn’t change much.”
Khoury also is a member of the parent group, Buckeyes for a Safe Ohio State. The group is pushing for more campus safety and recently put up billboards, one of which bears the face of Chase Meola, an OSU student who was shot and killed last October.
His mother posted an open letter to social media earlier this week that read, in part:
“As you can imagine, our family has been destroyed by the loss of our beloved son. Our hearts ache every minute of every day. One knock on the door has changed our family forever. I have nightmares imagining my precious, lifeless child on the ground in a parking lot with the fatal bullet in his head. Chase was only a few hundred yards from campus. It appeared to us that the University felt they didn’t have an obligation to protect students in the off-campus area. It has been a year and the administration has not done enough to create the drastic changes needed to protect the lives of their students. The gloves are now off!”
The university recently announced a $20 million plan to increase safety on and around campus.
University President Dr. Kristina Johnson posted a message for the campus community ahead of homecoming weekend.
“Since we started our safety enhancements this past academic year, major crimes in the off-campus area are down 84 percent,” Dr. Johnson said in a recorded video. “Our focus on enhancing safety will not waver though. In recent weeks, we added more mobile lights, cameras and security resources where many students live. Heading into this weekend, we're adding even more.”
But the parent group is pushing for more.
“It’s just not enough,” Khoury said. “If you look at the $2 million that they are allotting each year, that roughly figures out to about $30 per student a year. This is a university that has a multi-billion-dollar endowment. So, to say that each student’s safety is worth approximately $30 for an entire year, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Khoury wants to see more money being spent on more safety measures, including more security officers.
Ohio State junior Kevin Lim would like to see the same.
“They installed like light sources and everything, but I don’t really feel like I’m protected really,” he said. “I try to go with the crowds, if I can. But the thing is, COVID is like a thing, too. So I don’t know. It’s kind of like a double-edged sword, I guess.”
But one recent graduate points out that the crime concerns did not begin this year, although they didn’t stop either. Students have reported being robbed and assaulted. And the mother of an OSU student was shot on the day of the first home game.
“I guess it was just something that we kinda had to get used to because it wasn’t really going to stop,” 2020 graduate Caroline Kuehl said. “I think just anywhere on High Street, even down in the Short North, it’s just always a concern. Just trying to stick together.”
But not everyone feels the campus area is inherently unsafe.
The Tull family was visiting campus Friday. Dad Eric and Mom Anne were touring with their daughter. Their son is a sophomore and marching band member.
“He’s aware of everything that’s going on, and he feels safe, so I do feel like they’re doing what they can, and in a major urban city like this, where your student is attending college, it’s a different setting, so I do feel like, as parents here, we feel he is safe,” Anne Tull said.
She also praised the university for the safety measures being taken and for the transparency.
“I do feel like they’re going to heighten security going forward for football games, tailgates, things like that,” she said. “I don’t think (the gameday shooting is) a recurring event, and I do think they’re addressing it. I do.”
But other parents still plan to push for more safety this weekend. The Buckeyes for a Safe Ohio State group is leading a “Light Up the Night” walk Sunday night. It starts at 7:30 p.m. at the corner of East 15th and High Street.
The goal is to not only honor Chase Meola ahead of the anniversary of his death but also to shine a light on the dark areas around campus.
“We are just going to continue to lean on the city of Columbus, to lean on OSU, until things are remarkably better,” Khoury said. “I feel like things are headed in the right direction, but it just needs to continue. We need more action, more boots on the ground, we need to see more results.”
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