Monday, June 12, 2017

Staying Safe at College: Simple Ways to Be Prepared & Protected

Kids have many things on their minds when they head off to college, from what classes to take to how to decorate their dorm rooms. In all the excitement, it can be easy to overlook one of the most important aspects of being a college student: Safety. While college campuses might seem like special worlds where real life is far away, they aren't exempt from emergencies and natural disasters. Students can also face dangerous situations in their personal lives both on and off campus. While you don't want to spend your college years worrying about the worst that can happen, it's just smart to be well prepared.

All campuses have plans in place to respond efficiently and protect students in the event of an emergency. Pay close attention when emergency preparedness comes up in orientations (especially if you are attending college in a part of the country whose potential natural hazards are unfamiliar to you--Californians, for example, know how to respond in an earthquake, but may be clueless about tornadoes). If you need a refresher, find the campus safety page on your college's website and check it out. The Office of Emergency Management page at UC Berkeley is a great example of the kinds of information you should be looking for. Be sure to sign up for text and email alerts so you (and your parents) can receive immediate information about emergency situations on campus; these notifications have proven vital in many recent campus incidents. Some colleges may also have a "crisis management" app that can assist students with information and instructions during an emergency.

What else should you do to protect your safety at college?

  • Trust your instincts & take care of yourself. Sometimes the most important things you can do to stay safe are listening to your gut and doing what it takes to protect yourself. If the little voice inside your head says, "I don't know if I should" or "This doesn't feel right"...listen. Don't be afraid to ask for help or walk away when you need to. Taking care of yourself is part of being a responsible adult. 
  • Use campus escort services and shuttles when out and about at night. Find out how to contact transportation and escort services and keep this info on your phone. Many colleges offer door-to-door service throughout the night, and some also provide students with transportation via services like Uber and Lyft.
  • Memorize the phone numbers of key people. Thanks to "intelligent assistants" and cell phone contact banks, many people don't even know their parents' phone numbers, let alone their friends'. Commit the numbers of some key people to memory in case you lose or are separated from your phone and need to contact someone for help.
  • Consider using a personal safety app like Companion. It lets you enter a destination and enable friends and family to check in on you as you travel. You can alert your companions if you're feeling unsafe and also call 911 with a single tap. 
  • If you choose to drink at parties and social events, have a designated "sober friend". The vast majority of sexual assaults, medical emergencies and accidents on college campuses happen in situations where there is alcohol and drug use. Discuss in advance what constitutes a dangerous situation and then take turns looking out for each other. When you are the "sober friend", don't hesitate to call for help if you feel anyone is in danger. You could be saving someone's life. 
  • Know your limits. It is easier than you'd think to overdose on drugs and alcohol, and consuming to the point of impairment also makes you far more vulnerable to sexual assault and violence. Know when to quit. Also be sure to watch your drinks. Never leave a drink unattended or drink something that you didn't pour or watch being poured yourself. Incidents of drinks being spiked with drugs are not uncommon at college parties.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. When you go into a restaurant, party or concert, it only takes a few seconds to locate your closest exits in case you need to leave quickly during an emergency. If you sense that something isn't right or someone seems out of place, don't hesitate to leave. Never stay at a party or event where you can't find clearly marked and easily accessible exits.
  • Lock your doors. In dorm or co-op situations where you feel comfortable with your fellow students and have the added security of locked main doors and even security guards, you may feel like it's safe to leave your door unlocked at night. It isn't. Non-residents can and do access dorms. Your neighbors might also not be as trustworthy as you think. Always lock your door when you leave your room (even if you're just going to the bathroom down the hall) and never go to sleep without locking up. 
It can be difficult (if not impossible) to prevent or predict dangerous or threatening situations, and you can't go through life constantly looking over your shoulder or worrying about what-ifs. But it's easy to be prepared and maximize your safety both on and off campus. The added peace of mind and sense of personal responsibility that comes from taking care of yourself will make your college experience even more rewarding and enjoyable. 

No comments: