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How to be Safe on Campus

Simple Safety measures to help keep your safe on campus

On our campus visit to Temple University, we sat in a small room with 20 other parents and potential students. The admissions counselor came into the room, introduced herself and her assistants and made a few welcoming remarks before saying, "Temple has the sixth largest police force in the state. Campus is lit with stadium lighting, and you can literally walk across campus at night and have enough light to read a book. This is a very safe campus."

You could hear the audible sighs of relief from the parents. Temple is an inner-city school, and student safety is a high priority for parents and the administration.

"Crimes on campus tend to reflect the crimes of the surrounding community," says John Myers, director of campus security and safety at Wartburg College. For example, he says, "A community with drug and car theft problems can expect the local school to have similar experiences."

However, crime happens on all colleges, no matter the school's size or location, and parents need to be aware of what happens on and around the campus.

Survey Says ...

"When my son and husband visited one particular campus, they stopped for pizza," says Kate Dudding of Clifton Park, N.Y. "The pizza guy made some crack about the neighborhood around the college." The comment had Dudding and her family searching for campus crime statistics on the college's Web site.

All colleges and universities are required by federal law to release campus crime statistics. According to Myers, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires the reporting of specific campus crimes (criminal, homicide, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson, hate crimes and the number of arrests and referrals for liquor violations, drug violations and weapons violations) by calendar year, to be published and distributed to the campus community by October 1 of the following year. This information is usually found on individual college Web sites. Some schools send crime statistics as part of the information packets to prospective students.

The statistics can provide the starting point of discussions about campus safety between parents and students. While Dudding says that safety was equally important for her and her son, Gary Delafield of State College, Pa., has a different point of view. "[Campus safety] is more important to me [than to my child], as I am a lot more aware of all that can go wrong, whereas my child has blind faith that most of the time things go OK," he says.

Simple Safety Measures

One reason why parents worry so much about campus safety is because they are not there to protect their child from harm. Life on campus is out of parental control. However, parents can instill basic safety measures that will protect their child and their belongings. Even though some of these suggestions may seem obvious and may be met with a typical teenager's eye-rolling groan, the well-being of your college student depends on following these simple safety measures.

1. Don't ever let your guard down.

Don't walk around alone, particularly in unlit or desolate areas or buildings. Keep your dorm room or apartment door locked because you never know who might be wandering around the building. Stay sober. Pay attention to your surroundings. At one Pennsylvania university, for example, several young women were approached by a strange man. The women were walking alone, well past midnight, and in at least one case, in an area that was poorly lit.

2. Make sure someone knows your whereabouts.

A roommate or friend should know your class schedule. Leave a specific away message on your Instant Messenger (such as "studying at the library" or "hanging with Nick").

3. Register or keep an inventory of your expensive items.

Students have thousands of dollars of electronic equipment, bicycles and other personal items, and theft is a common campus problem.

4. Use good judgment.

"Colleges pride themselves on fostering the notion that students are fully adult and capable of making every decision for themselves, and at the first error reacting excessively to it," Delafield says. Students need to find out what the school's code of ethics is. It is easy for a student to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Be a Proactive Parent

Have your child give you a list of important numbers. Social Security, driver's license, credit cards and student identification are all good things for the parents to keep copies of. Also make sure you have the phone numbers for police and medical services on campus.

Statistics alone are scary. A year with an unusual amount of violent crime can skew the data. Regularly keeping up with the news around your child's campus (easy now, thanks to the Web) will give you a more accurate picture of the crime situation.

Visiting the campus and talking to campus security provides insight on how the school approaches campus safety issues. But remember, the campus administrators and safety services can only do so much. If students are proactive about following the above suggestions, their college experience should be a safe one.

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