College can be such a special time of your life. Surrounded by your best friends at a beautiful campus can lead any student to feel they are living in a secure home away from home. In this bubble, students sometimes start to believe that nothing could harm them or go wrong. Yet, similar to living in a big city, there are several precautions and common sense guidelines that any college student should practice.
- Lock your dorm room door when you leave and when you are alone inside your room. Similar to the front door of your house or apartment, leaving the door open leaves you open to intruders.
- According to NYU, keep a close eye on wallets, laptops, and cell phones when you are in the library, dining facilities, study hall, and other public places. “Crimes of opportunity can be minimized by safeguarding your personal property.”
- If you are going out alone, outside of your routine class schedule, tell a friend or roommate where you are going and when you will be back. This could apply to going to the gym, out for a run, to the library, to a coffee shop and so forth.
- Never walk on a path or street alone. This includes going for a run in a park or around campus. If you find that you are the only person in the area, switch your route.
- Do not focus solely on your smartphone while walking. If you are completely unaware of your surroundings, you are making yourself an easy target.
- Always carry a bit of emergency cash. Keep it in a special pocket of your wallet that you won’t use on a daily basis. It’s helpful to have in a situation where you suddenly need a cab or something else, and you will breathe easier knowing you have it.
- According to FastWeb.com, “Most campuses have emergency call buttons or phones scattered throughout campus for students to utilize in the event of an emergency. Find out what your campus system is and locate the areas in which the systems are placed. Should you ever find yourself in trouble, it will be much easier if you know where you can call for help.”
- Consider carrying pepper spray or an alarm on your keychain. It can also be helpful to take a self-defense course. Muhlenberg College offers a program of defense classes called R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense System). The R.A.D. program is a comprehensive course for women, which includes awareness, prevention, and hands-on defense training.
- Utilize campus safety resources when walking or traveling at odd hours. For example, Yale University offers Nighttime Safe Rides between the hours of 6:00pm and 6:00am, and they provide a walking escort (Yale security guard) 24 hours a day.
- State Farm recommends reporting suspicious people or vehicles to campus security. Don’t just ignore it and go about your day.
- Trust your gut feelings. If you feel unsafe in a situation, get out of there as quickly as possible.
- Don’t drink the punch! If you don’t know what has been put into a drink, you have no idea how much alcohol you are consuming or if any drugs have been added to the drink.
- Never leave your drink unattended. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that if your drink is out of your sight, you never know what someone may have added to it. Do not accept a drink from an acquaintance when you haven’t seen it made or poured.
- Don’t leave a friend behind. If you are leaving a party or bar, make sure that you leave with your friends as a group. When someone is left behind alone, they are vulnerable and can become a target for trouble. If you find yourself alone at a party, leave immediately.
- Know how much you can drink. Binge-drinking is a reality of college culture, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. The choices that you make when you binge-drink cannot be undone, even if you cannot remember them.
- If something is going on at a party or bar that seems illegal, do not be a bystander. New York City’s slogan: “If you see something, say something,” is a good rule of thumb for any situation where you feel that something is not quite right. USC offers a Slient Witness Crime Report (not to be used for an emergency) which allows for the anonymous submission of suspected criminal activity on campus.
- Parties and bars often occur in off-campus neighborhoods where the level of safety is not the same as on-campus. Do not leave an off-campus party or bar and decide to walk home through an unknown or unsafe neighborhood. Always take the time to wait for a cab, or call Safe Rides (a student-run transportation network of sober drivers helping students to get home safely). Never drive drunk or get into a car with someone who has been drinking. Save the numbers of local cab companies and the campus transportation program in your phone.
Personal Information on the Internet
- Manage your online reputation. Restrict your privacy settings to the highest levels on any social media sites. SafetyWeb.com advises, “Avoid oversharing.” This includes personal views, risky photos and videos, and your location. Monitor what your friends are posting about you, and take any unsuitable information down. Make good choices, and stay offline if you are drunk. Google yourself and take care of any questionable content.
- Choose passwords that contain upper and lower case letters, punctuation and numbers. Keep your passwords in a secure place away from your computer. If you think someone has compromised your login, report it to campus security.
- If you are experiencing cyber-bullying, consider changing your email address, deleting your profile on social networking sites and starting again with a new digital identity that uses high privacy settings, states Ithaca College. You should also report such harassment to a trusted advisor or campus security.
Use Campus and Government Resources
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel threatened or have been assaulted, it is important to have people you can turn to for guidance and support. It is wonderful to have peers that you can share your feelings and fears with, but do not let the discussion end there. You should report your experience to someone in a position of authority so that they can help you and assist in ending the wrong that has been committed.
- Resident Assistant or Rector: They are there to care for you and listen. According to the University of Notre Dame, RAs and rectors should build relationships with residents to provide assistance or referrals in academic, spiritual, social, and personal areas. These people are meant to be leaders, mentors, and teachers in your residential community.
- Campus Counseling Center: Take advantage of the social services provided for you on-campus. For example, the Counseling Center at Johns Hopkins University “strives to foster a healthy, caring University community that is beneficial to the intellectual, emotional and physical development of students.” They also have a confidential Sexual Assault Prevention, Education, and Response Coordinator, Alyse Campbell. She is able to act as a confidential source or help students navigate reporting.
- A trusted Professor or Administrator: It is often easier to turn to someone in a position of authority with whom you have a personal relationship.
- Campus Security or Police: According to the University of Michigan Police, their mission is “To contribute to and promote a safe and secure community, while respecting the rights and dignity of all persons utilizing facilities and programs of the University of Michigan.” Their website provides resources such as an annual security report, crime alerts, crime warnings, and crime statistics for the University of Michigan campus.
- Community Help Center: For example, the College of William and Mary lists AVALON, a local counseling center, as a resource in cases of sexual assault.
- Notalone.gov: Information for students, schools, and anyone interested in finding resources on how to respond to and prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses and in our schools. Find a crisis service, learn more about your rights and how to file a complaint, and view a map of resolved school-level enforcement activities.