Sunday, August 30, 2009

Beyond locking the dorm room door: the college safety practices students often forget

Beyond locking the dorm room door: the college safety practices students often forget

Jessica L Szabo

Silver Pinyon Journal

27 August 2009

The end of August signals the beginning of the school year for most college students; a time to leave hometowns, adopted hometowns, or summer job sites and return to life on campus. Other students are faced with the task of adding school work to a life that is already packed with full time employment, volunteer work, and caring for young children or meeting other family obligations. During this busy time, it is tempting to forget about personal safety but academic environments and projects often lead to situations where vigilance is especially important.

Nearly all on-campus students, and some distance learning students, will be invited to join special-interest groups. Before joining any group, first check with the student services or student affairs office to make sure that the group is either a recognized campus organization or a visiting group with permission to be on campus -- but don’t stop there urges Debbie Ames, an Advocate with the sexualt assault prevention and awareness group, Humboldt CAASA.

“They can ensure that the services that are offered are legitimate by doing a little investigation,” said Ames. “When kids are asked to become friends with new people, it is ok to trust them, however, as a parent I like to meet the parents and the children and I make the decision if it is a good thing for my kids to hang out with these individuals. In this day and age, there are many peer pressures that are set in front of the kids, and as a parent it is our goal to protect our children. After the first playdate, as I like to call it, I will determine if it is a good thing for my kids to hang out with the new kids.”

College students can follow the same pattern, acting as their own “parent” by meeting the group’s leaders, and members, and asking around about any group or organization that seems suspicious. Any legitimate group with nothing to hide will not be upset that a student asked counselors, professors, or other students about their activities on and off campus.

Whether meeting someone for the first time at a group meeting or in the dining hall or dorm, academic environments often lead to students getting to know one another very quickly, or at least to feel like they have gotten to know one another very quickly. While it is certainly unhealthy to be paranoid, remember you do not know someone well just because they belong to all the same political or social groups you joined, nor do you know the person after one long, intense conversation in the dorm common area.

“Buddy up!,” urged CAASA Advocate MJ Price. “Take a friend with you when you're getting out and meeting new people and set some rules in place, such as never going off alone or leaving without telling the other. If you have yet to make friends and have no one to buddy up with, play it safe and stick to areas where there are others.”

If you must be alone with someone you do not know well, such as a meeting with a professor you have never studied with before, or a tutoring appointment, it is still possible to avoid being isolated with that person. “When meeting with a professor or other staff member, try to schedule the appointment at a time when the building will be busy with activity; students walking to and from class or in-session classes being held in the surrounding rooms. If this isn't possible, ask a couple of friends to accompany you to the meeting and wait for you outside,” advised CAASA Advocate Billie Wirthlin. Just as no harmless group will be upset that a student asked about their activity and goals, no reasonable, safe individual will be upset that you wish to meet during business hours, or conduct a tutoring session in the library study carrels with people just down the hallway.

For many students today, college is conducted all, or at least partly, online. Class discussions, research, and even entire classes or entire programs are conducted in cyberspace. Even if the formal academic portion of the class or program is conducted in the tradtional face to face manner, students often use social networking sites to meet other students on campus, or to alleviate loneliness on a campus where they have not been successful socially.

CAASA members urged special precautions when meeting online aquaintances and friends in person. “You have to be extremely cautious when meeting someone whom you've met from an online social networking site,” said Wirthlin. “Online, people can pretend to be whoever they want, lying about their name, age, sex, interests and more. If you ever decide to meet someone offline, be sure it is in a public place such as a restaurant. Never give an online friend your home (or college) address. If possible, invite a few friends to join you as well. If this isn't possible, make sure you let someone know where you will be, when you will be back, and that you will check in with them shortly after meeting the individual.”

Price echoed Wirthlin’s advice to make sure someone you already know offline is fully aware of the situation and is expecting to hear from you. “Always use caution when meeting anyone face-to-face that you've only known online,” she added. “Be prepared that the person you thought you knew online may very well be someone different in person. Never arrange to meet them alone, instead use a local cafe or public meeting place where there will be others around. Don't go off alone with them that first meeting. Anyone that wants to immediately go off alone probably does not have good intentions.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to School Safety- Some tips!

It is that time of year again: back to school. This is a time of year that not only affects families with youths, but the entire community. School zone lights are back to flashing, bus stops, and kids walking to and from school, all of which means it is time for all of us to be more cautious.
Some kids will be going to school for the first time or to a new school. Even if the youths are not taking the same route, or a new one, over the summer their safety rules may have been forgotten.
At CAASA we talk a lot about safety and awareness, in hope of preventing even just one person from becoming a victim of a crime. Here we would like to offer some tips for parents and guardians out there to share with your youths.
1. If your child will be walking to school or a bus stop, before school begins walk the route with them. Teach them how to stay aware of their surroundings and observe all traffic rules. Look for significant landmarks that might be on the route, such as traffic signs or a large tree: something that will remind your child they are on the correct route. Find a “safety place” on the route or near it, such as a relative or friend’s house, a business, someplace they can run to if they need to find help.
2. Let your child know that if anyone bothers them and makes them feel uncomfortable, scared, or confused to tell a trusted adult immediately. If an adult approaches your children for help or directions, remember grownups needing help should not ask children for help; they should ask other adults.
3. There is safety in numbers. If other children in your area are walking the same route to school or a bus stop, talk with the parents about a “buddy group” where all the children walk together.
4. Any items or clothing that may show your child’s name should be left at home. Never have the name visible to others, as this could be a way for a stranger to approach your child and act as if they know them. Teach your children about the tricks someone may use to try to confuse them or engage them in conversation.
5. Check with your child’s school to ensure emergency contacts are up-to-date. If a friend or family member may be picking the children up from time to time, ensure they are aware of the school’s procedures. Remind them to CHECK FIRST before doing anything that is not part of regular routine.
6. Teach your children to yell! Yes, we know they already know how! Teach them a phrase which is not common with playing youths such as “This person is trying to take me” or “This is not my parent”. Teach your children how to make a scene by kicking, screaming, and resisting if someone tries to grab them.
7. Teach your child about instinct. That funny little feeling you get in your stomach when something doesn’t feel right, such as a car driving slowly behind them or someone walking behind them. Teach them to get to the nearest trusted adult for help.
8. In the event that your child may be lost or injured, make sure they carry a contact card with your name and telephone numbers. This card should be hidden from plain view.
9. Come up with a “safety word” with your child. It should be something that wouldn’t come up in regular conversation, such as “Pepper”. If your child is not in a safe place and feels they cannot speak freely, they can use a phrase such as “Tell my dog, Pepper, I love her”, which would tell you your child needs help. The safety word should be something only you and your child will know.
10. Check the Nevada Sex Offender Registry at to see if there are sex offenders living in your area regularly.
We hope these tips are helpful and wish everyone a safe school year!

This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.
Community Advocates Against Sexual Assault
P.O. Box 1338
Winnemucca, NV 89446
Contact Information:
775-623-2328, 775-623-2312, 775-247-2395
Fax: 623-3251
The mission of CAASA is to empower those victimized by sexual violence through advocacy and crisis intervention and to raise awareness in the community about the cause, impact, and prevention of sexual violence.

Be sure to check out our monthly column in the Humboldt Sun every 2nd Friday of the month!