Your teen is off to college. How exciting! She’ll be seeking new opportunities, new friendships, and a new sense of independence. You’ve done all the right things. You shopped together for desk lamps, registered her for orientation, and paid the deposit on time. However, the most important question is: have you prepared her with strategies to stay safe while living away from home?
College campuses are often safer than their surrounding communities, sometimes providing a false sense of security. Campus crime is a reality, however, so it is imperative that students familiarize themselves with all safety resources available to them.
The biggest way to stay safe is to know what to do in case of an emergency.
“Know all the services your college offers. Most campuses offer safety rides, vehicle lockout assistance, battery boosts, security assessments of your residence, and other useful information,” counsels Reid DeVoge, a residential police officer at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich.
Alerts: Schools are required by law to have mass notification systems to warn students and faculty if there is a safety situation on campus.
“Most colleges send messages via e-mail, text, and phone calls. These messages generally inform students about an ongoing situation and give instructions on how to proceed,” DeVoge reports.
Ken Miller, director of campus safety at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., urges parents to familiarize themselves with the emergency communication system.
“Many times, they will allow students to add additional phone numbers and email addresses for parents.”
Blue-light phones: Many universities have blue-light emergency telephones, which are highly visible and easily accessible throughout campus.
“These allow direct access to the campus safety staff and, if needed, the police department,” explains Miller.
Mobile phone apps: Cellphone applications are the new trend in campus security and are used in addition to more traditional alert systems (landlines and e-mail) for emergency notification. Some services provide a panic button so students can instantaneously send pertinent information (such as global positioning system location and student ID number) to campus security from their cellphone. One example is Rave Guardian (an app by Rave Mobile Safety, which is used by colleges throughout the United States).
Classes: Most colleges offer classes in self-defense and how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of sexual assault.
Laptop theft: Laptop theft is easily preventable, says Miller.
“I would strongly encourage the use of anti-theft software on laptops,” he urges. “There are many providers that allow you to install software on your laptop that will only be activated if you report the machine as being stolen (e.g. Absolute Computrace).”
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act, 1990) was prompted by the 1986 rape and murder of 19-year-old Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University freshman, in her dorm room. The Clery Act requires colleges to report crime statistics to the Department of Education.
“Any campus that receives federal funding must report annual crime statistics,” DeVoge explains. “Review this report so you know the crime trends, if any, at your campus.”
It’s safest to be sober; however, some students will choose to drink.
“If you go out and alcohol or drugs are involved, your chances of becoming a victim greatly increase,” warns James Magee, director of safety and security at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. “If you choose to drink, never accept drinks from a stranger or leave your drink unattended.”
Ken Miller points out, “Alcohol is a factor in a majority of sexual assault cases.”
Reid DeVoge reminds students that there is safety in numbers. He also suggests that students use well-lit paths and avoid shortcuts through secluded areas.
Magee points out, “If a building has a combination or card swipe lock, don’t let someone piggyback with you into the building if you don’t know them. The first two homicides at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2007 happened when Seung-Hui Cho piggybacked into a residence hall, and then killed a student and the RA who came to investigate.”
“Alcohol (and drug) awareness and education are key! When judgment is impaired, people make poor choices about where to go or what to do that they would not make if sober.”
Victoria Ertman-Kane, Hyde Park, N.Y.
“College is one of those times when a child’s circle of friends expands significantly. We sat down with the girls in our Scout troop and explained that they needed to be cautious about instant friends who might not have their best interest at heart.”
Debbie St. Onge, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Upcoming topic: Tips about how teen girls should “curb” the disrespectful talk toward one another.
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Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist and author of “Lions and Tigers and Teens: Expert advice and support for the conscientious parent just like you” (Unlimited Publishing LLC, 2012) available at Amazon.com.