Opinion

Yale Murder a Wake-up Call

Editor's note: This is the campus perspective from our partners at UWire.com. Author Josh Plotnik is a student at Emory University.

I never thought the death of a graduate student, whom I have never met and who lived more than a thousand miles away from me, would have such an effect on me personally. But the death of Yale student Annie Le is one of the single most unbelievable ever on a college campus and one that should make us all stop and reconsider our safety.

In a case that overwhelmingly gripped the nation, Le, a 24-year-old Vietnamese-American studying for her MD/Ph.D. in pharmacology, was murdered and then stuffed inside a wall in the laboratory’s basement. A lab technician that worked in her laboratory building was arrested and charged with her murder.

Le, by all accounts an intelligent, sweet, gentle and hard-working graduate student, was murdered presumably during working hours inside her medical school laboratory. She left behind friends, family, a devastated fiance and an entire country shocked at such a brutal crime.

It’s difficult to explain why I have become so captivated by this one heinous murder, but as a graduate student myself, it is hard to imagine such a disgusting case happening in what most of us have always thought was a rather safe environment. After all, her laboratory building was highly secure, with cameras focused on all the entrances and multiple access cards and keys required to enter the various areas of the building.

Simply put, it seems unfortunately apparent that even at an elite university, in broad daylight and in a secure facility, safety should never be assumed. I often work late nights at a psychology building on Emory's campus, and even as a male, I wonder whether or not the small noises I hear in the halls come from the air conditioner or someone who shouldn’t be there.

How do we protect ourselves if Le, who ironically wrote a Yale magazine column only a few months ago about campus safety and seemed to know exactly how to protect herself, could be murdered in such an unlikely place and time? I wish the answer was simple, but it isn’t.

In a statement sent to students, Yale University President Richard Levin wrote: “We must not let this incident shatter our trust in one another. ... The work of the university requires us to engage with each other in the classroom, to collaborate in the laboratory and to trust one another in workplaces across the campus.”

I agree wholeheartedly; many would argue that safety on college campuses is quite good, even at big-city universities and that changing lifestyles and activities because of a relatively few number of violent crimes simply isn’t necessary.

Although clearly not all acts of violence can be prevented — and paranoia is unhealthy — members of the college communities must, at the very least, remain vigilant.

The murder of Annie Le suggests that universities should regularly re-evaluate whether or not all that is being done to protect their students is actually being done.

Le's death was senseless and shockingly horrific but it has captured the public’s attention primarily because it suggests that even in the supposed safety and sterility of a secure university laboratory, no one is ever totally and completely safe.

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