College students have enough to worry about without being concerned about falling victim to a crime. For many students, living away from home for the first time, managing a heavy course load, and creating a new social network is already very stressful. Seeing campus shootings and rapes splashed across the headlines can make school seem downright scary. However, staying safe on campus is simple if you plan ahead, practice good habits and know what to do if a dangerous situation occurs.
Staying Safe on Campus – Get the Facts
Over 20 million students are attending colleges and universities in America right now. Up until the late 1980s, campus crimes were grossly under-reported. Schools didn’t want to look bad to potential students and donors so they didn’t report most crimes. To combat this problem and generate accurate data the US Congress passed the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The Clery Act requires schools to report crime statistics accurately and immediately. Schools that don’t comply are charged $27,500 per incident! This means that you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about crime on your campus by visiting the US Department of Education website. You can focus on your specific campus, see places to avoid, and note what sort of crimes are being committed. You can also compare campuses if you are still trying to choose a school. All crimes, not just headline-grabbing violent acts are listed, you can find things like identity theft and missing laptops on there, too. Burglary is the most common crime reported on all campuses. So lock your doors, your windows, your bikes, and your residential buildings. Make sure your computers and phones are password protected and don’t leave them lying around in common areas. Thieves are on the lookout for people taking a quick shower and leaving their dorm room open or stepping away from their belongings in the library. It only takes a moment to grab electronics and run. Some schools in some cities are safer than others, but ultimately your safety is up to you.
Staying Safe on Campus – Stay Connected
Some things haven’t changed since elementary school. The buddy system is still a best practice. There really is safety in numbers so avoid going anywhere alone whenever possible. If you must go alone, tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. Have a meeting spot when you are out with friends in case someone gets lost and their phone dies and be sure to keep an eye on each other’s drinks. Date rape drugs being added to unattended drinks are a rare but real threat. I highly recommend a designated driver in any situation, even when no one has to drive. That person is in charge of getting everyone safely home from the party, ensuring good decisions are made and preventing a predator from luring an intoxicated person away from the group. Many of the tragic situations you read about in the news could have been prevented if the intoxicated victim had had a sober companion.
You should also tap into whatever campus resources are available. Know where the blue-light phones are and don’t be afraid to use them if you are ever afraid. Security expert Gavin De Becker writes in his bestselling book The Gift of Fear that people often ignore their gut instinct to scream, run or sneak out the back door because they don’t want to be rude or act strangely. It is much better to hurt an innocent person’s feelings or to look silly than it is to ignore your instincts and risk your life. If someone is scaring you get away from them any way you can and do not be afraid to call for help. Better safe than sorry, don’t wait until it is too late, seek help the second you think you might need it or it will be too late. If you make a mistake, it is no big deal.
Make sure your emergency contact information is updated on your phone. You should also download all of the campus security apps. Eastern Kentucky University has its own App, LiveSafe, the app enables Eastern community members (including students, staff, faculty, etc.) to report any problems on-site such as accidents, criminal activity, drugs/alcohol use, mental health problems, suspicious activity, as well as minor things like parking and repair issues. You will find most schools have a text alert system to notify you of an emergency situation. Many schools provide on-campus transportation during the day and security escorts to get you safely home at night. If your school provides those things make sure you know how to contact them along with the campus police. Be sure to have the Uber App or a taxi phone number programmed into your phone in case all else fails. Walking home alone, especially late at night is never your best option. Look up from your phone and be aware of your surroundings when you are out and about. Predators choose easy victims, not alert, vigilant people.
Be Vigilant About Your Cyber Safety
Cybersafety isn’t just for children. It applies to everyone. Even adults can be tracked, stalked, followed, or attacked. Do not post anything on the internet that you wouldn’t tell a stranger. This is especially true of your schedule, your location, and your lonely status updates. “I’m all alone in J hall. Where is everyone?” is an invitation for a predator to come to find you. Constantly “checking in” and geotagging your images allows people to virtually follow you and learn your schedule. Think before you post. Remember your clothing, background, and activities can tell a predator a lot of information. Make sure they don’t say too much.
Educate Yourself About Sexual Assault
Unfortunately, one of the most common crimes on college campuses is sexual assault. There are several things that you can do to help reduce the risk. Keep your doors and windows locked at all times. Don’t trust your new friends and neighbors until you have really gotten to know them. College feels like summer camp and creates an instant atmosphere of bonding but you can’t trust everyone that you meet. 2/3 of all sexual assaults are committed by a person the victim knows and 50% of them happen within a mile of their home. If any encounter ever makes you uncomfortable, even if it starts out as a date, remove yourself from the situation immediately. Trust your gut. If that doesn’t work or things escalate then scream and fight with all of your might. Rapists do not like victims that draw attention so the louder you can scream the better. Many local gyms, dojos, and student unions offer basic self-defense classes. A few defensive moves and a loud scream can be very effective in deterring someone who is looking for a fearful, passive victim.
Run Don’t Freeze if Shots are Fired
Active shooter situations are headline news but are actually rare events. However, being prepared in the event that it ever occurs at your school could mean the difference between life and death. Just like you have been trained to do in case of fire, always scan a new environment for the exits. Remember the closet exit might be through the kitchen, down some stairs, behind a curtain, etc. If shots are fired, don’t just stand there like a deer in the headlights, RUN! Head for the nearest exit. Run in a zig-zag pattern, if you think that someone might actually shoot at you, but RUN. According to data compiled by The Art of Manliness, “normalcy bias” causes most people to freeze when something extraordinary happens. Freezing makes you a still target and therefore a sitting duck. So you have to plan ahead and mentally practice what you should do in a scary situation. Therefore, you should mentally prepare yourself so that if you ever hear shots fired that you will run instead of freeze and you will head for the nearest exit. Most shooters are very troubled individuals that do not have very good aim and will have a hard time hitting a moving target. If there is no available exit, the second-best option is to hide. Get behind a closed door and barricade it if possible. Silence your phone and only call 911 when you have done all that you can to protect yourself and getaway. Only fight the gunman as a last resort. If you must take a stand, try to do it with others at the same time. It is very hard for one gunman to overcome several people at once, especially if they attack from the back and sides.
Safety requires vigilance, a plan, and mental preparedness. Look up from your phone, stay with your friends, know where the exits are, and follow your gut instincts. If you are afraid, there is a reason for that and you need to remove yourself from the situation immediately. Protect your valuables, lock your doors, and use common sense. Safety is everyone’s job so keep an eye on your friends, note what is happening around you and you will have four safe years!