Guest post by Beth Kotz
September marks the start of back-to-school season for most of the country, but it also coincides with National Preparedness Month
. If you're returning to campus as a college student, it’s important to consider ahead of time what you can do to ensure your own personal safety as well as that of others.
For women especially, the issue of violence and crime is not to be taken lightly. A survey in 2015 revealed that 23 percent of women across 27 universities suffered sexual violence as undergraduates
. You shouldn’t have to fear for your safety, but because assault remains a problem on college campuses, it’s wise to keep a few things in mind. Here’s a brief list of tips to get started:
College is a time to try all different kinds of new experiences, and there will be plenty of opportunities to do just that. But before you dive headfirst into anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, take the time to assess the situation. Go with your gut
, set boundaries, and stick to them. That includes knowing how much is too much when it comes to alcohol and giving a firm "no" to unknown substances or pills.
Along these same lines, pay attention to where you're going, who's around and what's going on while you're there. There's no reason to sequester yourself in your dorm room for the duration of college, but you do need to be careful. If your stomach tells you that the guy at the bar is shady, listen to it—and leave without explanation. Remember you don’t owe anyone anything, and as you learned in elementary school, it’s always better to put your own “safety first.”
Be Confident on Campus
Every college campus has its own safety protocols
to prevent threats and deal with unexpected attacks, but that doesn’t mean everyone will play by the rules. To be an informed and confident student, you need to get familiar with your school's procedures when it comes to natural disasters, outside forces and even on-campus threats. If you're not sure where to start, talk to your campus safety officers. These are campus employees with real emergency training, and they can point you in the right direction for learning about the school's emergency preparedness protocols.
While you're talking to the campus cops, program their direct phone number into your phone. You may be tempted to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency—and that's always a good call if you're unsure—but calling the campus police could result in faster assistance. Area 911 operations aren't always close by. When you need help fast and you're close to school, a quick call to the college response team may serve you better.
Build Your Safety Arsenal
Going to class shouldn't feel like engaging in all-out warfare, but you should consider equipping yourself with the right tools to thwart any would-be attackers. Women and men alike benefit from self-defense courses
—not only as self-protection, but as a tool to intervene as a bystander should you witness a situation that may escalate into assault. These classes will teach you how to identify and react to specific threats. You might also think to purchase a non-lethal defense weapon, like pepper spray or even a self-defense keychain. Just remember to practice wielding these weapons first! They won't help you in an emergency if you don't know how to use them.
It’s also important to consider your digital self as something worth protecting. Personal safety apps
can provide GPS targeting and virtual assistance in case of an emergency and alert your friends (and campus safety) if something’s amiss. If you live further off campus, consider the utility of a wearable keychain
or an outdoor surveillance camera
. In addition to warding off would-be criminals, a wireless camera can catch thieves and share everything it sees with you remotely. While we hope you’ll never need to access this footage, it may come in handy in case of a crisis.
Lend a Hand
The only way to stop the problem of assault is to act when it happens, and that means standing up for another person if you notice that she's in trouble. Creating a safer campus community
starts by counteracting acts of violence—physical or verbal—and intervening in a way that makes sense. Bystanders can do more than just “stand by.” Call the police and enlist others nearby for help. Lending a hand in a tough situation could prevent it from escalating. Eliminating the threat of violence on and off campus starts with each individual doing the right thing.
Put “safety” at the top of your back-to-school checklist this year, and bear in mind what you can do to chase crime off your own college campus. Listen to your conscience, and don’t be afraid to step in if you see something amiss—your bravery just might save another student’s life.
Beth Kotz is a freelance writer and contributor for numerous home, technology, and personal finance blogs. She graduated with BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL where she continues to live and work. You can Replace her personal website here.