Campus Crime Alerts: A Potential Contributor to Racial Stereotyping in Higher Education


Katie Savin: 0000-0001-8155-0749


Social Work


Background: This study examined campus police email alerts of local, suspected, criminal activity and used statistical regression to explore descriptions of Black and Latino male suspects. Drawing from the racial profiling in policing literature, I investigated the relationship between the amount of detail in campus crime alert descriptions of a suspect and suspect race. My hypothesis was that Black and Latino men would be described with less detail than their White counterparts because of societal assumptions that race in and of itself can signify criminality. The research question is motivated by concern for the potential of the crime alerts to reinforce negative stereotypes of Black and Latino men on campus. If a campus community were to receive suspect descriptions so sparse that they could easily match most men of the same race, such crime alerts could contribute to a hostile academic environment for people of color. Methods: The data are based on university-wide crime alerts sent to all affiliates of a large university community in California via email and/or text message regarding suspected criminal activity. Data were collected in an original systematized content analysis of these alerts received between August, 2016 and April, 2017. After the first 50 observations (with one suspect equal to one observation) were collected, the messages were reread in their totality and a list of categories of suspect descriptors in the emails was created. These categories were used to create coded variables in an excel spreadsheet. Once the raw data was transferred, the spreadsheet was uploaded into STATA for statistical analysis. Of note, all data were copied verbatim from the alerts, I did not insert any original data or terms. Moreover, I had no access to data or personnel beyond what any university affiliate receives by default from the campus police department. Results: The number of categories of descriptors for suspects (n=63) was regressed over two dummy variables for the suspect being Black or Latino. The estimated regression coefficient for Black suspects was -1.76 (p=.026) and for Latino suspects was -1.79 (p=.024), revealing an estimate of the difference in mean number of descriptors between Black and non-Black suspects and Latino and Latino suspects. Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest that Black and Latino men, when described as suspects in campus crime alerts, are given fewer descriptors than their White counterparts. The lack of description provided for Black and Latino suspects could contribute to a campus environment in which any similarly racialized men may be interpreted as safety threats, thus experiencing stereotyped criminalization due to their race. Within broader efforts to diversify higher education, social work schools struggle to attract and retain students of color. Given the statistical strength of the findings showing varying numbers of descriptors by race in the campus crime alerts and the relative accessibility of internal campus policing policies, campus crime alert protocol may be ripe for exploration and intervention as a risk factor contributing to structural determinants of stereotype threat.

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Publication Date


Publication Title

Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) 22nd Annual Conference

Conference Dates

January 10-14, 2018

Conference Location

Washington, D.C.

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