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As Colleges Welcome Students Back, Will Your Student Be Safe?Suzanne Shaffer
With contributions from Suzanne Shaffer
When it comes to personal safety, today’s college students live in a world that requires vigilance and awareness. Colleges and universities work to foster safe environments, but students share responsibility.
As your student acclimates to their new campus and life, check in about what they do on a daily basis to keep themselves safe. You can help by supplying good advice and the best safety tools available.
Many of these recommendations were shared at orientation and move-in, but it’s good to revisit the list periodically — it may take your student a while to check off every box!
Always lock your dorm room and secure your valuables.
Don’t let anyone who doesn’t have a student ID into the residence hall. Even if they ask nicely. Verify their identity.
Sign up for campus emergency alerts. (Parents may be able to sign up for these as well.) Program emergency numbers into your cellphone for easy access.
Use the buddy system. It can be tempting to go for a run alone, or make a quick trip to the library by yourself after dark, but it’s not worth the risk. Never be alone at night or in remote areas. Stick with your friends at parties and don’t let a friend leave a party alone or with someone they don’t know.
Use the buddy system when taking public transportation, Uber and Lyft, too.
Use campus security escorts and safe rides.
Take advantage of safety training. Many campuses offer self-defense classes, or you can sign up for one at a local Y or recreation center.
Register any valuables with serial numbers (electronics, bikes, etc.) with the campus police department. This makes them easier to track if they’re stolen.
Students should closely follow all their school’s guidelines intended to reduce the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak in the campus community. This will include social distancing rules in buildings and outdoors as well as mask requirements.
You can help by making sure your student has a supply of both disposable and reusable/washable masks along with hand sanitizer to keep in their dorm room and backpack. And reiterate that frequent hand washing is one of the best prevention strategies.
Your student’s smartphone can be a great self-defense tool. Safety apps give them instant access to authorities, parents and fellow students when they feel they’re in an unsafe situation. Encourage your student to ask their friends for safety app recommendations, and give free apps a test drive. A few to consider are Watch Over Me, Circle of 6, Shake 2 Alert and Panik.
These items pair well with a self-defense class because, when faced with danger, your student needs to be prepared to use them quickly and with confidence.
A whistle or personal safety alarm is the simplest option. Alarms, which are small and can be attached to keys for easy access, emit up to 130 decibels to scare off an attacker plus capture the attention of bystanders.
Pepper spray (which causes severe irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory system) is popular because it’s quick, easy to use and effective. However, pepper spray is illegal in some states. Check the law where your student attends school.
Students who drink excessively are at higher risk of being involved in car accidents, hazing and sexual assault. Keep talking to your student throughout college about alcohol and substance use. Ask questions and listen to what they have to say about social situations they’ve been in or witnessed. Talk through possible scenarios so they can anticipate how they might act, react and help their friends. Make sure they know how to drink responsibly and how to get home safely when they are out late.
Discuss the dangers of drink tampering and binge drinking and help them come up with ways to stay safe. SWIGSAFE™ can be a helpful product for this, as the tumblers are built with campus life and safety in mind: a 16-ounce capacity that works for water, a protein shake or a party drink; latched lid to aid in safeguarding against drink tampering; measurement icons symbolizing standard drink amounts; and a transportable, easy-to-grip design with wrist strap.
When talking to your student about alcohol use and safe partying practices, try to be understanding and careful in your judgments as this will encourage your student to be open with you and invite more conversations down the road.
Remind your student to program 9-1-1 and also the campus police emergency number into their phone.
Ask your student about emergency drills (lockdown, etc.) that have taken place. What were they instructed to do in different kinds of situations? Going over the information again with you should help fix it in your student’s mind.
Be sure you have the names and phone numbers of a few of your student’s roommates or close friends as well as their parents, and that they have yours.
Students should understand the natural hazards on and near their campus (for example, if the campus is in a flood plain) and pay attention to severe weather warnings so they can be in a safe place if/when a
They should know multiple ways out (including fire exits) of the buildings they frequent on campus.
They should know their residential housing staff/landlord and be able to get in touch with them quickly.
In a weather-related emergency, your student could be stranded in a resident hall or apartment for a few days, potentially without power. Encourage your student to make an emergency kit that includes a three-day supply of non-perishable food (dried fruit, nuts, bars, tuna packets, crackers, etc.) and water, a flashlight and extra batteries, a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio, first aid supplies, any medications they take, rain gear and warm clothes.
Don’t be afraid to talk about personal safety!
Knowing and practicing safety precautions will lead to your student feeling empowered, not scared. Informed students are ready to steer clear of dangerous situations and prepared students are more likely to emerge unscathed from an attempted crime. Help your student be both.