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.”