Killing of University of Chicago Student Unsettles Campus Life
College Reevaluates Off-Campus Safety, Emergency Call Boxes
The students stood in a circle on the campus quadrangle at the University of Chicago and held slender white candles as they remembered a gentle graduate student from Senegal who was killed early Nov. 19, weeks before he was to receive his doctorate.
The student, Amadou Cisse, 29, was shot to death near his apartment, just off campus. The police said he might have been the victim of an attempted robbery.
The killing was one of three violent crimes within an hour and a few blocks of one another, according to the police and university officials. About 12:30 a.m., a male university employee was chased and shot at, but escaped serious injury. At 1:15 a.m., two female undergraduates were robbed by a man who said he had a gun. Minutes later, Cisse was fatally wounded.
Police officials said they were investigating whether the crimes were related and issued a community alert with a picture of a car believed to be tied to the shooting of Cisse.
Some students questioned why the university waited nine hours before sending e-mail and phone alerts about the violence. A university spokeswoman, Julie A. Peterson, said, “I don’t know if it would have been a better decision to issue the alert in the middle of the night immediately following the shooting, but it’s a fair question to ask.”
Officials at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 people in April, faced criticism for failing to notify students sooner that a killer was on the loose.
The attacks shocked students at this university, long an island of privilege butted uncomfortably against areas of poverty and crime. While students said they were accustomed to minor crimes — bicycle thefts, car break-ins — Cisse’s death has sent ripples of fear through the campus. The last time a student died as a result of violent crime on or near the campus was in July 1977, officials said.
Since the attacks, students said, they have been leaving the library earlier than usual and taking extra care at night. “People with cars are offering to drive more people home,” said Amalia Beckner, 19. One night this week, she said, a fellow student insisted on driving her the block or so from a building to her dormitory.
Peterson said the school had taken “immediate measures to enhance safety.”
The number of campus police cars patrolling from dusk to dawn has grown to 23 from nine, officials said, and two vans have been added to a program that offers late-night rides. There is also a new plan to open a campus police substation until construction ends on one that was previously planned.
Up the block from where Cisse was killed, an emergency phone connecting students to the campus police had been removed because of construction of a dormitory.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the call box was not there,” Peterson said, “but we don’t know what difference that would have made, if any.” The box was back up and running on Tuesday.
Matthew Kennedy, 21, a student government vice president, said students were angry, yet somewhat resigned, about the death. “People want answers, and they want the university to protect them,” he said. “But the overwhelming sense is that this was a random act of violence, that this happens when you live in an urban environment.”
The attacks have lent a new urgency to long-standing questions about the relationship between the university, in Hyde Park, and surrounding neighborhoods.
Cisse was killed just south of a boulevard-like expanse called the Midway. Campus buildings lining the Midway have long been seen as a symbolic divider between the university and the neighborhood of Woodlawn. “Once you cross this one little line, you feel like you’re in a different world,” said Fida Abuisneineh, 19.
Despite a rich history of community organizing, Woodlawn continues to struggle with poverty and violence, and community organizers calling for an end to the violence rallied Tuesday evening on the sidewalk where Cisse was killed.
Earlier, at the school’s candlelight vigil, a student cried as she talked of how Cisse, a teaching assistant, gave up weekends to help undergraduate pupils prepare for exams. A professor spoke of celebrating with him after he successfully defended his dissertation. And a Senegalese woman lamented the loss of a man who could have brought so much to Senegal, where he hoped to return.
The university plans to award Cisse’s doctorate, in chemistry, posthumously on Dec. 7.