A reported rape at Andover Newton Theological School last month has prompted its administrators to reconsider security measures on the quiet, tree-lined campus in Newton Centre, as shocked students, faculty members, and the nearby community seek reassurance.
The school will be adding lampposts on campus and installing additional lights in its buildings, said president Nick Carter.
Andover Newton is also talking to security experts and law enforcement about additional steps, including whether to install campus emergency phones, marked by blue lights, that are common at larger colleges, Carter said.
“This makes us aware that we’re not exempt from things that happen in the world,” Carter said. “As sad as it is, this religious enclave isn’t exempt.”
The school has a night guard, but because of its size does not have security personnel, Carter said.
Since Newton police alerted the public on Oct. 25 about the reported rape, questions have swirled about safety on campus and what the school is doing to protect students and staff members.
According to police, a female student reported that she was raped by a masked man in the basement bathroom of the auditorium building on the afternoon of Oct. 14. The woman has not spoken directly with police about the incident, and the investigation has stalled, officials said.
The administration said it was the first report of a sexual assault at Andover Newton, a graduate theological school with roots dating to 1778. Violent offenses are rare at the school of 285 students. Last year, there were two aggravated assaults, one robbery, and one motor vehicle theft on the campus, according to federally reported statistics.
While the Herrick Road school is only 500 yards away from the bustling Newton Centre commercial district and an active MBTA station, its setting, at the top of a hill alongside spacious Victorian homes, can make it seem farther removed.
Judith Vincent, who is working toward a master’s degree in theological studies, said the school’s caring and quiet environment is a draw for students who spend hours in classes or deep in study.
But Vincent, who lives on campus, said she would like to see administrators provide students with more information about safety precautions, and bring in experts to discuss the issues.
“We don’t need to know who was assaulted, but we need to know what to do and how to remain safe,” Vincent said.
At the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, a teaching facility that moved its offices from Boston to the Andover Newton campus in June, a basket on the front counter is full of flashlights for employees and guests to use at night.
Carole Nathan, the institute’s managing director, said her organization purchased the flashlights because it is getting darker earlier, and in part due to the assault. Also, Andover Newton, as the institute’s landlord, has agreed to add more lighting to the front of its building, Nathan said.
She has spoken to her staff and reminded them to walk in pairs and be aware of their surroundings, she said.
“You think you’re out in the suburbs and these things don’t happen,” Nathan said. “It’s a horrible wake-up call.”
Carter said school administrators have responded quickly and tried to be sensitive to the needs of the student who was assaulted.
“It’s a delicate balance between the concerns of the victim and the concerns of the vulnerable,” Carter said.
The student told an employee what happened two days after the incident. After learning of the attack, administrators tried to persuade the victim to reveal details of the assault, Carter said. After deciding that they had all the facts, school officials went to the police, Carter said.
“Our concern was for the victim,” Carter said.
Police have said that the school is cooperating and has urged the victim to speak with investigators.
The federal Clery Act, which governs campus safety and security regulations for schools that take part in US financial aid programs, requires timely warnings to be issued about threats on campus. But the law purposefully doesn’t specify a time frame, said Alison Kiss, executive director of the nonprofit Clery Center for Security on Campus.
The timing can depend on whether the suspect is in custody, or whether it’s important to protect the victim and the confidentiality of students, Kiss said.
“I think sooner rather than later is the preferred method,” Kiss said. “Campuses are encouraged to empower the victim . . . many times that power has been taken away from the victim.”
Carter said he is proud of Andover Newton’s approach to the incident. The school’s dean of students is an expert on sexual and domestic violence, Carter said, and recently has been educating faculty and staff on how to handle these issues. She has also developed a plan to work with students, Carter said.
But Carter warns that while the school is working to increase its security and make sure students feel safe, there are financial constraints on Andover Newton.
“My goal is that everybody who comes here feels safe. We’ll spend whatever is necessary to get to that end,” Carter said. “We have to recognize that we’re not a major university . . . We can’t take 20 percent of the budget to duplicate what a major university has.”Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.