Rachel Wilkerson arrived at Temple’s Main Campus for the start of her freshman year expecting to spend the next four years in Philadelphia. It was the university’s city environment that made Wilkerson feel like Temple was the place she was supposed to earn her degree.
A year later, Wilkerson and a group of her friends were robbed at gunpoint during her sophomore year when walking to their off-campus apartment. Although she wasn’t physically harmed, the robbery made Wilkerson realize that the area surrounding Temple’s campus was not an area she thought she could feel safe in.
“Before [the robbery] I really enjoyed Temple and I still talk to a lot of friends from Temple,” said Wilkerson, a former religion major. “I started to feel unsafe on campus. I did enjoy at Temple how the city was mixed into the campus, but now I feel safer that my campus isn’t cut through by any city stuff.”
After consulting with her parents, Wilkerson decided to leave Temple and transfer to the University of Maryland, College Park. Wilkerson is one of many students who have transferred or contemplated transferring from Temple because of rising safety concerns around Main Campus. Almost 50 percent of students considered transferring, according to a November 2022 poll from The Temple News.
“Gun violence is an epidemic that continues to impact both the nation and Philadelphia,” wrote Stephen Orbanek, a university spokesperson, in a statement to The Temple News. “While there are a host of factors that inform a student’s decision to transfer in or out of a university, these are very trying times. Because of that, we know that some students may ultimately choose to continue their education elsewhere.”
Eighty-four percent of Temple undergraduate students choose to live off-campus, while only 16 percent of students live in on campus or university-affiliated housing, according to Temple’s 2021-22 Common Data Set.
Students’ concern for safety rose when Temple Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald was fatally shot on Feb. 18 while responding to a robbery at 17th Street near Montgomery Avenue. The incident has since sparked new conversations about whether or not students are safe living in the surrounding areas off Temple’s campus.
Temple President Jason Wingard said he doesn’t know what it would take to keep students safe, when asked during a Feb. 22 interview with NBC10 Philadelphia
“If you ask the question ‘What should Temple University be doing to keep their students safe who live in Philadelphia?’ I don’t have an answer for that,” Wingard said. “People are not staying safe in this country and they are not staying safe in this city unfortunately. What I do know is that collaboration will be the solution.”
There have been 210 non-fatal and 51 fatal shooting victims in Philadelphia, as of Feb. 27, according to the Philadelphia Office of the Controller. Although Temple offers safety services like FLIGHT, TU Alerts and walking escorts, many students still feel unsafe carrying out their daily routines.
“I didn’t even really feel safe walking to the grocery store,” said Ainsley Griffin, a former undeclared student at Temple who transferred to West Chester University after the Fall 2021 semester. “Once it got dark out I wasn’t really motivated to go out which definitely affected my social life.”
Temple offers students a unique opportunity to experience city life while also providing a campus that incorporates greenery, unlike most urban campuses. However, not even a quarter mile past campus limits, shootings frequently take place, putting students at risk.
Shootings within the Temple University patrol zone have more than doubled in the last four years, NBC10 Philadelphia reported. In 2018, there were 11 shootings within the Temple University Police Department patrol zone compared to the 26 shootings that took place within the zone in 2022.
While most students are aware of the nearby safety concerns when they decide to attend Temple, it can be difficult to ignore the violence that surrounds the campus, Griffin said.
In November 2021, Samuel Collington, a 21-year-old senior political science major, was fatally shot on Park Avenue near Susquehanna. The incident scared Griffin and her parents, and ultimately contributed to her decision to transfer.
“It was the semester that [Collington] was killed off campus,” Griffin said. “That is something that really freaked my parents out, so they definitely wanted me to transfer after that. It was already in the works a little bit, but that was like a definite cause.”
Some students who have been victims of robberies and other off-campus crimes think Temple can improve their response to safety issues by offering more support to the student victims.
Nearly 45 percent of students said they feel unsafe and 31 percent said they feel very unsafe in the area surrounding Temple’s campus.
When Wilkerson was robbed at gunpoint, she did not hear much from the Temple administration, she said.
“We got one email from someone who wasn’t very high up and the response was mostly from the Temple police,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t think we heard much from administration and I didn’t even like reaching out to teachers, it felt like they weren’t supportive and it felt like they were upset with me missing some classes.”
Despite Wilkerson’s communication concerns, Temple administration has found that most faculty are incredibly compassionate and eager to help students through the process, wrote Stephanie Ives, Temple’s associate vice president and dean of students, in an email to The Temple News. Additionally, administration provides immediate outreach to students affected by safety incidents.
“We know that immediate outreach is important, so we often call or text a student as well as send them an email with a variety of resources (including counseling),” Ives wrote.
If a student has any more requests or needs, Temple works to accommodate them. Donna Gray, the university’s risk reduction and advocacy services manager, aids any student that goes through the criminal process.
Typically following violence on or off-campus, members of Temple administration will also send an email reminding students of safety and counseling resources they can use like FLIGHT, walking escorts or mental health resources such as Tuttleman Counseling Services.
The university also reminds students of safety initiatives like the walking escort system, Best Nest Program and Temple’s joining of the Civic Coalition to Save Lives.
“We know there is more to do, and we have already been in contact with key stakeholders across both the city and state to expand our action plan, and we will provide an update on that shortly,” Orbanek wrote.
Gia Pacheco transferred from Temple after the Fall 2022 semester and is continuing her college education at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
While at Temple, Pacheco lived at James S. White Hall. She frequently received Citizen app alerts about armed robberies at the 7-Eleven and Rite Aid nearby. The tipping point for Pacheco was when she was visiting home and other students in her dorm sent her pictures of a shooting that occurred nearby.
“My friends at White Hall were sending me videos of the shooting that had just occurred,” said Pacheco, a former Temple biology major. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really crazy to even think that I could have been there and witnessed that.’”
The shooting took place on Sept. 15, in the McDonald’s parking lot on Broad Street near Diamond, Fox 29 reported.
Similar to Wilkerson, Pacheco was attracted to Temple because of the opportunity to experience city life. She got an on-campus job at Playa Bowls and enjoyed her classes and professors.
After she expressed concerns to her parents about campus safety following the shooting near White Hall, her parents supported her decision to Juniata.
Pacheco chose Juniata because the campus is isolated, and Huntingdon is composed of mostly college students while Temple’s surrounding area is mixed with both residents and students.
“[Huntingdon] is nice and there’s mountains, it’s scenic and there’s nothing really going on there,” Pacheco said. “There’s no previous community that lives there that is intertwined with the university.”
Crime near Main Campus has worried students and parents alike. When Wilkerson and Griffin told their parents they wanted to transfer, they were all in complete agreement and thought it was the correct decision.
When Pacheco informed her mom of her plans to transfer, she was especially certain that leaving Temple was in her daughter’s best interest.
“My mom was all for me getting out of [Temple],” Pacheco said. “She was just like, ‘I don’t want you down there.’ She was like ‘I feel like we just left you down there to struggle and we just put you in this unsafe environment and I just couldn’t sleep at night almost.’”