By Guest Contributor Elspeth Bishop
College is a wonderful experience, but all too often students can become lax in their own personal safety, assuming danger is beyond them in an academic environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Colleges do have policies and procedures in place, but there’s only so much campus security can do.
General Safety Tips
Here are some simple tips that can reduce your risk for being the target of a crime. Don’t look at them as ironclad rules. If a tip conflicts with things you need or want to do, try to find other options to protect your safety. (Note from the Women’s Center: Many of the tips in this article focus more on stranger behavior and settings. If you’re looking for resources that address strategies for violence prevention and transformation of the broader, systemic culture of violence, the Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education can be a great place to start.)
- Use the buddy system. The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a compromising situation by isolating yourself; safety comes in numbers. People inclined to commit crimes do not want to be noticed, plus a friend can also get assistance if you need it.
- Keep your cell phone with you. Keep it charged and have emergency numbers on speed dial. If you have to call 911, your phone can be tracked if needed. This is a critical tool in today’s technological age.
- Be aware. I can’t stress this enough—how many times have you looked back on a situation and knew what was going to happen? We are creatures genetically engineered to survive, so trust your feelings. If your gut tells you something’s wrong, don’t do it! Develop the habit of looking around, observing your environment and noticing what’s going on around you. The best defense to any danger is avoiding it.
- Keep it public. Studying with someone new? Even with study groups, you should make a habit of staying in public places. There’s less that can go wrong when there are ample witnesses.
- When in trouble, let it out. If you feel threatened, don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid to say “no”, scream, kick, bite or break property around you to get to safety or draw attention. Shouting “fire” will get a bigger reaction than shouting “help”.” Everyone wants to know where the fire is.
- Visit the University of Minnesota Police Department website for more information.
When it comes to your personal safety, doing the right thing can make all the difference. Avoid these common mistakes:
- Jogging or walking while plugged into your iPod decreases your awareness of the environment around you.
- Not taking advantage of trusted friends or other services to get escorted to your vehicle.
- Opening your door to strangers without checking credentials is a dangerous move. Don’t take anyone’s word for who they are.
- Picking up hitchhikers is always a bad idea, especially if you’re alone. Giving rides to people you don’t know isn’t something to laugh about or try.
What Should You Carry With You?
Carrying the right tools while on campus may increase your safety. A little preparation can go a long way.
- LED flashlights are a wonderful tool to keep on hand. They come in all sizes, fit easily in a pocket, purse or backpack and they’re designed to last a long time. The battery power on LED’s lasts substantially longer than traditional lights.
- Maps are your friend. One of the worst things that can happen to someone new to campus is getting lost. If you’re not familiar with where your classes are and where buildings are located, you can quickly find yourself in a compromising location. Keep a campus map handy at all times until you know your way around.
- Keys are a handy self-defense tool for those who know how to wield them. Scratching, whipping, poking and puncturing can be effective distraction to buy you time so you can get away. When walking alone or at night, keep your keys handy. If you have to get someone’s attention inside a building, metal keys make a louder noise on metal doors and windows than the pounding of your fist.
- Cell phones are very useful tools, if you have one. You can call on the run (using apps like Circle of 6, for example) and get help if you have to lock yourself in a room or a car. You can even take pictures and record events to assist the police after the fact. Keep your phone charged and close.
Situations to Avoid
This is a broad subject, but one that has some simple, yet powerful principles you can apply to your daily life.
- Do your safety homework. Know where you’re going; know the people you’re with and even the route you’ll take. The more you know in advance, the less likely you are to be surprised.
- Avoid sparsely populated areas and activities. Stay close to groups, walk with friends and if you have to go anywhere after dark, go with someone whenever possible.
- Don’t give out your personal information to those you don’t know.
“Eyewitness News Everywhere, Memphis TN” reported that college campuses themselves are ranked as the fifth most dangerous locations for women. Here is a short list of the potentially dangerous areas:
- Anywhere with poor lighting. If it’s a matter of a bulb, report the missing bulb to the campus authorities so they can have it replaced or repaired.
- Places with dense foliage are prime areas for predators to hide and wait for victims.
- Parking lots, especially with a full lot of parked cars on weekends, are a prime location for predators to hide.
By taking a little time to assess your surrounding, you may be a lot safer on your college campus. If you are living off-campus in a home that you own where you are able to take more extensive security measures, consider a home security system or even a guard dog.
Elspeth is a writer committed to teaching people how stay healthy and safe whether it’s on your college campus or in the comfort of your own home. Having worked and studied in Spain and Puerto Rico throughout her college years, she understands the value of feeling safe and secure at all times.