Clark Atlanta University student Kwesi Williams leads a crowd of supporters from the university and the Atlanta University Center community in song during a candlelight vigil in memory of Alexis Crawford on Nov. 10. Student Government Association President Levon Campbell Jr. is dressed in gray, standing to the right of Williams. 

Clark Atlanta students support each other after classmate’s killing

Not everyone on Clark Atlanta University’s campus knew Alexis Crawford, but because she was a student, she was “family.”

Since Atlanta police charged Crawford’s roommate and her roommate’s boyfriend on Nov. 8 with the student’s murder, classmates and administrators say they have rallied as a family to support and protect each other. They have been particularly mindful to lift up Crawford’s younger brother, Tyrese, a sophomore at the university.

Students have shared safety tips for on and off campus and offered ideas, including one classmate’s proposal — which is named after Crawford — to protect women from potential danger.

The body of Alexis Crawford, a Clark Atlanta University student, was found in a DeKalb County park, Atlanta police said. 

Administrators credit student leaders for bringing the campus together.

“They directed everything,” said Omar Estrada Torres, the university’s dean for Student Services and Campus Life, looking at Student Government Association President Levon Campbell Jr., during an interview Thursday.

Aretha Bernard, 20, a junior majoring in psychology, said while she did not personally know Crawford, she “had a relationship with her situation.”

“With her situation, it encompassed domestic violence, sexual assault as well as death,” said Bernard, the school’s Miss CAU. “That’s something in one way, shape or form, everybody on this campus can relate to, which is why I think everyone has been brought together on this campus.”

Clark Atlanta University interim provost Dorcas Bowles and assistant provost Calvin L. Brown join students and others in writing words of comfort for the family of Alexis Crawford on Nov. 10. 

As safety issues have risen, Clark Atlanta and other higher education institutions have been under increased scrutiny to ensure student safety, particularly from sex-related crimes. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of annual security and safety reports for metro Atlanta’s 20 largest institutions found there were 65 rapes on those campuses in 2018, the same total as 2017. Dating violence rose significantly from 41 complaints in 2017 to 58 last year. Clark Atlanta reported three forcible sex offenses and five dating violence incidents last year.

Crawford, who lived near campus, was strangled to death and smothered with a plastic bag before her remains were placed in a plastic bin and dumped in a DeKalb County park, police say. Crawford filed a report with Atlanta police saying her roommate’s boyfriend, Barron Brantley, assaulted her a few days before police believe she was killed. Her roommate, Jordyn Jones, was also a Clark Atlanta student. Both suspects are being held without bond at the Fulton County Jail.

Programs for the funeral service display a photo of Alexis Janae Crawford, a slain 21-year-old senior attending Clark Atlanta University, at Cornerstone Church in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. 
Photo: Austin Steele / Special for the AJC

Funeral services were held Saturday for Crawford, 21, a senior, of Athens, in her hometown. Many Clark Atlanta students made the trip to Athens Saturday; some taking a bus from the campus, others finding their own way there. The university’s choir and its worship choir rehearsed last week for performances at the service.

>> PHOTOS: Funeral for slain Clark Atlanta student

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This semester has been difficult for Clark Atlanta, a private, historically black university of 3,920 students located two-tenths of a mile from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Two female students, along with two Spelman College students, were wounded in an unauthorized block party across the street from the campus the evening before classes started in August. The two students have returned to campus and are doing fine, Torres said.

The day after Crawford’s body was found, many students stayed in their dorms to grieve. Campus leaders went to the residence halls to talk. The university’s new president, George T. French Jr., and other administrators have been at campus events to comfort students.

That Sunday, about 100 people gathered for a worship service on campus. There were many theological questions in the initial days after Crawford’s body was found, said Tonya Lawrence-Miles, Clark Atlanta’s chaplain.

Why did this happen? Where was God?

“This was not an act of God,” Lawrence-Miles said she explained.

The Rev. Markel Hutchins speaks during a vigil for Alexis Crawford on Nov. 10. Clark Atlanta University Student Government Association President Levon Campbell Jr. is standing to the right of Hutchins. Clark Atlanta President George T. French Jr. is to the left of Hutchins, with his arm around the university’s police chief, Debra A. Williams. 

About 73% of Clark Atlanta’s students are women, the highest percentage of the 50 largest coed institutions in Georgia.

Student Angelo Hopson wrote a six-page proposal to protect women on campus the day after Crawford’s body was found. He’s called it the “Alexis Crawford Safehouse Plan.”

“It hit me so hard,” Hopson, 33, a business administration major, said of her death. “I felt like I failed her.”

Hopson’s plan, among other things, would require school officials to find temporary housing and counseling for women who fear for their safety. Crawford remained with her roommate in the days after she reported the alleged assault to police. Hopson met with Torres on Wednesday to discuss his proposal. Both men said they plan more conversations.

“We have to act fast,” Hopson said.

In the meantime, students and administrators are discussing additional ways to be mindful about their safety. They include sharing safety apps and offering to walk with classmates on campus. Torres noted Clark Atlanta has a smartphone app that allows students to share their location with campus police if the student is concerned about their safety.

“It’s an eye-opener for students to be aware of their surroundings,” said Campbell Jr., 20, a political science major. “It’s sad it had to be this way, but it’s an eye-opener.”

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