Campus safety is an incredibly important topic. Parents and students should discuss safety issues before arriving on campus. Many students have misconceptions that they do not have any safety hazards on campus. The rising figures on reported campus sexual assaults, drug use, and other crimes have necessitated a shift in the way campus safety and security is promoted. John Vinson, a campus safety professional, lists the reasons why safety should be a top priority.
Danger from Outside Campus
Intruders on college campuses do exist, looking for opportunities that present themselves to take advantage of the students who have let their guard down. Thefts from common areas such as libraries, student unions, and backpack shelves outside of dining halls have caused a severe problem on some campuses. Some members of the local community may have access to academic and residential buildings, possibly coming on campus to create safety and security concerns for students.
Most college campuses now have locked doors on residential buildings, requiring a keycard or code access, but many students are naive enough to let others into the building, thinking that they are polite. Students need to be educated that they could be letting a potentially dangerous person into the residence hall. Academic buildings are often not locked, but on some campuses, there is a movement toward locking these buildings as well.
Problems with Other Students
Other students may commit theft and other property crimes. It is mainly a problem when students do not lock their residence hall doors or when they leave their unattended belongings in a public place. Many students feel as if they are as safe as they would be at home while on campus, but they need to practice common sense at all times. Just as they would not leave their home door unlocked, they need to lock their residence hall rooms as well.
One especially troubling facet of campus safety, which has received a great deal of media attention is the epidemic of campus sexual assault. Students are vulnerable to this damaging form of attack. Campus education programs need to continue to emphasize that it is not the fault of the person who is assaulted. Campus police and public safety or security departments officials should use a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach during any investigations. Campuses also need to seriously continue to crack down on students who are known abusers and expel them from school.
Drug abuse on campus is rising. Together with the physical harm caused by drugs, students may also be vulnerable to property crimes or assault as a result of buying or selling drugs. Students should be counseled against using and buying drugs, and campus regulations must be tightened to protect the community.
Gun violence is another topic that frightens students and parents alike. While students and faculty may feel helpless in the face of possible gun violence on campus, safety professionals are discovering ways to protect students. These include having a campus police department with well-trained police officers, and/or public safety or security officers, and increased use of video surveillance. When a possible suspicious person or active shooter is detected on campus, a text and email alert can be sent to the entire campus community so that appropriate action can be taken. These text and email systems have the potential to save many lives due to students, faculty, and staff sheltering in place when an alert is publicized.
Use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
The increase in campus incidents means that many schools now have large CCTV networks. These networks may be professionally monitored and may serve as a deterrent, meaning that faculty, staff, and students are protected from bad actors 24/7. Students should also be encouraged to report suspicious activities or persons on campus at all times. “If you see something, say something” is good advice.
Changes That Have Been Made
Some college campuses may need to improve its safety and security. One significant change is that many campuses now have professional police and/or public safety or security departments. Today’s changing landscape requires a community-oriented approach to addressing crime in and around the campuses. College police or security departments should remain accessible to students, building a culture of trust and making it more likely that a student would come to the police, public safety or security department for help with any concerns or serious problems.
Escort programs can also be beneficial for students who are nervous about walking alone at night. Safety van services or being able to call a security officer to escort a student back to their residence hall at night can be reassuring. While there may still be a crime on campus at night, having a good relationship with campus police and/or public safety or security department personnel is paramount. As we continue to promote these vital safety and security services available to the students, more crime prevention education and emphasis need to be directed at educating international student populations.
Known as the Clery Act, colleges and universities have a federal requirement to disseminate a public annual security report (ASR) by October 1 of each year. The ASR contains information about crime statistics, safety resources, college or university policies and procedures, important safety tips, and other useful information. The ASR is an essential resource to review when a student or parent is interested in comparing schools based on their crime rates and types of issues that often occur amongst different institutions. It will give students a better idea of what kind of atmosphere they can expect when they begin to attend their selected campus.
Be Safe Without Being Paranoid
While campus safety is critical, students should practice common sense without being paranoid. Excessively worrying about campus safety can cause student anxiety. While it is crucial to be informed, students should be able to feel safe on campus. John Vinson reminds students and parents that the responsibility for campus safety is shared by the college and/or university campus police and/or public safety or security departments and by the students themselves. Students can significantly increase their safety by focusing less on their mobile devices while walking throughout campus and paying more attention to their surrounding environments. Together, we can make a difference!