Q&A: Kaitlyn Kowalski Transfers to Rowan Amid Safety Crises

The campus of Temple University on a sunny day. - Photo / Temple.edu

In recent months, most of America’s major cities have been grappling with a “crime wave,” and struggling to identify the root of the problem and offer effective solutions. Philadelphia has been no exception to this, as the city sees significant spikes in carjackings and murder

Some of the more high-profile incidents have been the tragic deaths of several Temple University students. These cases have, unsurprisingly, caused ripple effects throughout the student body, and the city at large, forcing some to make difficult decisions regarding their safety, and their education. 

One such case is Kaitlyn Kowalski, a junior journalism and film production major at Rowan University and a recent transfer from Temple University, a school that, in her opinion, was no longer safe to attend. Kaitlyn offers a unique perspective on the tragedies at hand and valuable insight into the mental state of an academic community suffering from a brutal loss. 

So, the last thing I want is for people to come away from this thinking you’re just some helpless victim. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and your life outside of this story? 

So, my decision to go to Temple University was based on the fact that I am a journalism major and the communications school there is great. I loved Temple but I was not allowed to double major, which Rowan did allow me to do. Production and film actually came about from my internship with the Walt Disney company- the Disney College program, this past fall. I love journalism, but my internship allowed me to meet a lot of amazing people, and allowed me to network with them. That was part of the reason why I left. And commuting to Temple and the city in general, it’s a whole process to just find parking, and honestly, that was a good enough reason to start to make the decision to come to Rowan. 

I can imagine most people have at least heard of the recent string of tragedies that have happened at the school. If it’s not too difficult to recount or bring up, can you give us a run-down of what exactly happened? 

Yeah, so, basically, it was about a month and a half ago, in a span of about three weeks, there were three Temple students- one was murdered, the other two, I’m not positive. I know they were severely hurt. The first one, he was coming back from Thanksgiving break, he was getting out of his car literally a block away from campus, a block I’ve walked on to get to class. He was robbed at gunpoint and shot right outside of his apartment.

He was twenty-one years old, about to graduate. My thoughts on leaving Temple were brewing before this and I never thought I’d actually do it, so as soon as this happened, I was shocked. It was disconcerting and combined with the freshman that was stabbed to death, I had seen enough. I asked myself: “is it worth risking my life to go to college?” It’s very sad I had to make that decision. Rowan is a great school, I’m very happy here, but transferring is a hard process, and I’m still trying to figure it out. I just had to leave. What other choice did I have? 

Is this just a problem related to Temple?

No. LaSalle University is in an awful area as well. I have a friend who goes there, she says if you step one foot off-campus, you have a risk of being shot. That’s something that, as a student, I shouldn’t have to consider. The thought of whether I’ll make it down the street has gone through my head. My dad refused to let me out without pepper spray before going to school. It’s just sad. Even in Glassboro. I’ve never had an issue here, but all over the country, crime is getting worse, and if nothing is done, It’s not going to get better. 

So, to peek behind the curtain a little bit, you briefly mentioned a feeling of resentment towards Temple coming from the whole student body. None of this is their fault, but can you speak on what’s fueling these feelings and what response you would have liked to see? 

When I started my freshman year in 2019, I was very excited to come to campus. I met so many new people, great friends and great professors. But after certain things would happen, like small robberies into the apartments, they would tell us: “don’t go past this street, you’ll most certainly be shot.” My dad would tell me to call him before I went to class to make sure I wasn’t taking certain routes.

The resentment didn’t build up from there, but during my sophomore year and when COVID started, I began to look at things differently. Reading the news, seeing things happen, becoming aware of my surroundings, that’s when it started.

Temple has enough money to rebuild around the area and they can do so many small things that will help the people there, even outside of the university. If you have the right amount of security and the resources they need, people won’t come close enough to harm students. I barely saw any security when I was there and I never felt safe. People were constantly coming up behind me and I even got catcalled a few times. 

I can’t imagine what that’s like- to fear going to school every day. 

Exactly. And now, after developing an outsider’s perspective from the internship, it really fueled my fire and the shooting was the last straw for me. One of my old journalism professors texted me the other day asking if I was “ still our main anchor?” And that killed me. After the candle lighting for Samuel Collington, the student who was shot, my parents texted me this whole monologue basically asking if I wanted to keep risking my life. 

Do you feel like you’ve made the right choice?

At the end of the day, yes. I’m not scared to go to school anymore. 

I don’t expect a measured or definitive answer to this question, but as someone who’s been directly impacted by this, what do you make of the surge in crimes in Philly? Just as a casual observer.

I’ve thought about this a lot. I have a lot of family in the city and it’s dangerous to even go to the bars in the center city. I noticed these things started to happen with COVID. The anger in people is only getting worse. That’s not reflective of everyone, but the violence is getting worse because of people taking advantage of the chaos. Also, how do you stop criminals from, say, Center City,  walking into North Philly and doing something awful? You can’t.

There was also a woman in Center City who was sexually assaulted behind a building, right by Love Park, in the middle of the day. There were people there that could have helped. People think the next person is going to do something- and I think that’s a big factor in this crime situation. Even the mayor said “my secretary will do something.” And with COVID, Black Lives Matter, the election, all in recent years, there are so many ethical concerns and different opinions with such high stakes, and that just creates so much conflict. 

And when people have nowhere to turn, they turn on each other. 

Exactly. I know that’s a lot, but that’s just how I feel about the whole situation. 

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