A Guide to College Campus Safety
College is often the first time high school graduates live on their own without parental supervision. With that said, it’s normal for parents and students to be concerned about safety. Colleges and universities have their ways of protecting their students, such as having police force or security staff on-site, building and dorm room security systems installed, campus escort services, and more. However, campus safety is also a personal responsibility.
The Jeanne Clery Act
Enacted in 1990, the Jeanne Clery Act requires institutions in the United States to openly disclose information regarding crime occurring on or around their campus grounds. In the mid-90’s, colleges and universities took advantage of the Internet to conveniently share such information, making it accessible to prospective students and their families so that they are well-aware of crime statistics ahead of time.
The common types of crime will vary depending on where you go to school. For example, a school in the city may experience a higher level of petty theft. A school that is more deserted may be more likely to attract sexual predators. Regardless of location though, you can never be too cautious when it comes to protecting yourself from becoming a victim of crime or finding yourself in a potential crime situation.
General Tips for Campus Safety
You can never be too safe. So, do your part to be vigilant, and take extra precautions to protect yourself and those around you. Here are some tips to do just that:
- Opt-in for campus alert texts. This way, you will be alerted right away if there is an incident on campus, and you will know to stay away if needed.
- Lock your dorm room when you are not around. Dorms can be a hotspot for theft. Locking up when you leave and encouraging your roommates to be on the same page will deter potential thieves from entering your private space.
- Add your school’s security department’s emergency phone number to your speed dial. You never know when you’ll need it!
- Be aware of your surroundings. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you are on your own, you want to make sure that you aren’t distracted on your phone or in a compromising situation. Criminals often go after people who appear lost, distracted, or confused. Whenever possible, travel with a buddy or a group.
- Avoid walking alone at night. It’s harder to be aware of your surroundings when it’s dark, so it’s best to walk in a pack. It’s harder for someone to attack a large group of people.
- Inform others of your whereabouts. Are you going out? Let your roommate or someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. This way, they can know when to look for you if you aren’t back by the planned time, or to check up on you to make sure you are safe.
- Share your class schedules with your roommates. Same idea – when people know where you are going, they’ll be more likely to know when and if something is off.
- Get to know your neighbors. Living alone for the first time can be daunting. Becoming friendly with those around you can make you feel a sense of community, and it’s always good to look out for each other.
- Carry pepper spray with you, and know how to use it. Hopefully, you will never need to use it, but it’s a reliable self-defense tool if a time of danger ever arises.
Campus Fire Safety
Residence halls and dorms can house hundreds, if not thousands of students. As you might imagine, if one catches on fire, a lot of people are doomed. That being said, each student must do their part to practice fire safety and avoid carelessness. When you first move into your dorm, your resident advisor will inform you on what to do in the event of a fire. You’ll be provided with clear instructions on which direction to exit, and where the secondary exits are for back-up purposes. There may even be fire drills with timed evacuations to ensure that everyone is ready for appropriate and fast action in case a real fire strikes.
- Just like for general campus safety, being aware of your surroundings will go a long way in protecting you and your surroundings from preventable fires. For example:
- If you are living somewhere with a kitchen or kitchenette, make sure that the stove or oven isn’t on when you or your roommates are not using them.
- Avoid leaving a candle lit when you are not there to supervise.
- Don’t sleep with a portable heater on, or leave it on when you are not home.
- If you must, smoke outdoors and not indoors. Make sure cigarette buds are completely put out before leaving the scene.
- Keep flammables away from any fireplaces, candles, or areas in a living space that may be potentially dangerous and start a fire.
In addition to practicing fire safety in your dorm, it’s also smart to become familiar with your building and locate all exits and stairwells. Once you’ve done that, go beyond just your residence hall. Explore your lecture halls, campus bookstore, library, dining areas, and university center also and make sure you know where the exits and stairwells are so you can act fast when needed, no matter where you may be. It’s easy to think that a fire will never happen, but you will be glad you were prepared if it ever does!
Fighting Back Against Sexual Victimization
According to the Association of American Universities Campus Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct in May 2015, 11.7% of student respondents reported that they had experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation” while in college. For women, that figure jumps to 23.1%, and 10.8% of that experienced forced penetration.
These statistics are not meant to scare you, but to encourage you to take advantage of available resources meant to educate students and advocate for policies that prevent sexual victimization. Keeping your school’s security department’s contact information handy at all times is a good place to start. Take advantage of campus escort services if you ever feel uncomfortable, and especially at night if you are taking evening classes and have to walk from class back to your dorm without a buddy. If you must walk alone, take well-lit paths that are also well-traveled. With other people around, sex offenders are less likely to act, and if they do, the chances of someone seeing and coming to or calling for help is higher.
Women must be especially mindful and take extra precautions to stay safe on and off-campus. Remember that an attacker can be anyone. It could be an older man, a classmate, a roommate’s brother, or a jealous ex-boyfriend. The possibilities are endless, and the person doesn’t necessarily have to be a creep. There are many ways perpetrators can engage in sexual victimization. Violence and drugs are popular methods, so it’s important for students to trust their instincts and be assertive in potentially dangerous situations. It may be helpful to think of possible scenarios and plan out how you would react and respond if they ever became a reality. Remember, no one has the right to touch you without your consent. Leave fast and far away if you ever feel uncomfortable.
Taking a self-defense class may come in handy for protecting yourself in a situation of sexual victimization. Being able to say “no” verbally or yelling for help is one thing, but if those methods don’t work, you may have to physically fight back quickly to save yourself from harm. You may inquire with your school’s safety department to see if they offer any type of self-defense class on campus, or you can check to see if your community has one that you can take. Being familiar with common and even basic self-defense moves may be all you need to stay out of trouble!
The Bottom Line
College comes with invigorating new-found freedom. This should be a good thing; don’t let another person’s unwelcome advances get in the way of your personal growth. Fight back and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Alert campus safety to any issues you personally face or witness, and request their help. Remember that if nothing is done or people stay silent, perpetrators will be able to keep getting away with their harmful actions without suffering deserved consequences.