I know firsthand that college campuses can be very dangerous for students. But there are ways for you to reduce the likelihood of being a victim. Here are 10 personal safety tips that every college student should know and practice.
Familiarize Yourself With Your School's Safety Features
Depending on which school you attend, there will be certain security and safety features that can help you if you're in danger. For example, at Florida State University (where I attended) there were security posts you could see no matter where you stood on campus. If you were in danger, you could run up to one of these posts and hit the button. The post will start flashing bright and campus security/police would arrive on the scene.
Be Extra Careful at Night
Whether you're walking home late from the library or from a night of drinking, it's especially important to make safe decisions at night. Your campus and the surrounding area will be far less populated making it much easier for a crime to take place. Try to use school transportation (night buses, safe vans) to get to your destination. If your school does not have these options, try to find someone to walk home with. You are much less likely to be victimized if you are with someone else or a group of people. If you are forced to walk home alone at night, call someone you trust and have them stay on the phone with you until you reach your destination.
Carry Personal Safety Gear
No matter how safe you try to be, there's always the chance that someone could still try to attack you. To prepare for these situations, carry pepper spray or a taser with you when walking around. If you're walking alone at night, have one of these items in your hand ready to use, especially if you feel uneasy or as if someone may be following you. Also, remember that your phone is your best friend in unsafe situations. If you're walking alone at night and feel at-risk, have 911 pre-dialed so you'll be ready to phone the police at an instant's notice. There are also some great safety apps you can use as a tool when walking alone, such as SafeTrek.
Always Lock Up
If you live in a dorm room, you have a bit of extra protection from non-students because you're required to swipe your student card to enter the building. But this doesn't protect you from other students who may try to steal from you. Always make sure you lock your dorm room when leaving. Also as an added precaution, keep your valuables locked away in your room. Your laptop, iPad, and any other expensive items need extra protection from thieves.
Protect Your Home
If you live in a house off-campus, it's extremely important to take action to protect your home for burglars. Many off-campus housing neighborhoods can be in high-crime areas, making you a prime target for criminals. To ensure you and your house is safe, you must take extra precaution. Always keep your doors locked, even when you're home. Have an alarm system installed, if possible. Put up security cameras by the front and back doors. If you're leaving for winter or summer break, get automatic lights that turn on in the evening so it looks like someone is home and not away on vacation. You can read more here for some more great home security ideas.
Study the Area
This is especially important for students who are new to their college town. The last thing you want is to get lost on your way home and end up in a bad neighborhood. You can learn about crime rates in your town online, so you know what areas are safer to travel in and which ones you should avoid. You should also learn as much about the streets surrounding your campus as much as possible so you don't get lost. Most importantly, study your campus so you know it like the back of your hand. Not only will this make you safer by preventing you from getting lost, but you'll get everywhere quicker and never be late for class.
Learn to Defend Yourself
Learning basic defense skills will not only come in handy if you're attacked, but it will make you feel more confident in your safety. A lot of universities offer defense classes you can take, or you can find them at local organizations in your town. You will learn basic ways to combat common attacks. This means no matter how small you may be, you can counteract your attacker and run to safety so you can get help.
Be Careful on Social Media
Sex trafficking is a real issue in college towns and major cities. Traffickers may create fake social media profiles so they can track people down and kidnap them. People often don't think twice about geotagging and sharing their current location, but you never know who may be looking at your current location. To be safe, never accept a friend request from someone you don't know, even if you have mutual friends. Also, try not to tag your current location, especially if it's nighttime and you may be alone at some point.
Follow Your Intuition
The most important thing you can do when practicing personal safety skills is to always follow your gut and intuition. If you are on a date with someone and you're getting really bad vibes, don't feel bad about leaving the date. If someone invites you into your home and your gut says it's not a good idea, don't feel bad about saying no. Our guts are almost always right because they are more aware of warning signs than our conscious mind. Never do something because you feel like you have to. Always do what you feel comfortable with, and if you're uncomfortable, it's okay to remove yourself or avoid the situation altogether.