As college parents, one of our major concerns when our students head off to college is their safety. We want our students to do well academically, we want them to be healthy, we want them to be happy, but first and foremost, we want them to be safe.
Ideally, a three way partnership will do the most to help keep college students safe. Parents need to talk to their students about safety, students need to exercise awareness and behave responsibly, and colleges need to take precautions to keep students safe.
Concern for the safety of college students is a growing national concern in light of recent incidents and tragedies on college campuses. One law and one initiative in particular attempt to address this concern.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act
Commonly known as the “Clery Act,” this federal law is named for Jeanne Clery, a nineteen year old freshman at Lehigh University who was raped and murdered in her residence hall in 1986. Students at the college had not been told about violent crimes which had occurred around the campus. The law was originally named the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act, and was first passed in 1990. It was amended in August 2008.
The Clery Act requires any college, either public or private, that receives federal financial aid, to keep and disclose crime statistics on and near campus. Amendments to the law passed in 2008 require institutions to include a campus emergency response plan in their reporting. Colleges are required to have a plan to “immediately notify” members of the campus community if an emergency is confirmed on campus.
Other amendments require institutions to disclose mutual aid agreements with state and local police units and to provide information about hate crimes, alcohol and drug use, prevention of/response to sexual assault, domestic or dating violence and stalking.
Institutions are required to publish their report in the fall of each year, and it must contain information for the prior three years. The requirements are monitored by the United States Department of Education.
National Center for Campus Public Safety
The National Center for Campus Public Safety was established in 2013 through a grant from the US Department of Justice. The Center supports campus officials in creating safer and stronger campus communities. The Center collaborates with many constituencies who work to create safe campuses including campus safety, law enforcement, emergency management professionals, administrators, students, advocacy organizations, federal agencies and community leaders. The Center provides events, forums, publications, and other resources.
Obviously, legislation alone will not keep college students safe. Colleges need to use legislation to work in partnership with students, faculty members and families. Although an institution can have a plan and set up a framework for safety on campus, students’ awareness of their surroundings and their own actions will help to keep them safe.
Parents can, and should, encourage students to increase their awareness of their actions on a daily basis. Parents and students might also consider some of the following factors, or ask questions regarding them, as they visit colleges during the admissions process.
What should my college student consider regarding campus safety?
- How do students gain access to residence halls? Do students have keys, swipe ID cards? Don’t loan keys to others or prop doors open. Never let strangers into residence halls.
- Be aware of lighting on the campus at night. Take a well lit path – even if it is longer. Report broken lights to campus authorities. Be aware of lighting around entrances to residence halls and other buildings.
- Be aware of emergency phones or call boxes on campus. These are sometimes known as “blue lights” since their blue light is recognizable. Be aware of the location of such phones and always use them if concerned about something.
- Share your schedule with someone – a roommate or friend. Let them know where you will be and when you expect to return.
- Don’t walk alone at night. Campuses often feel safe – and most campuses are safe. But students should not have a false sense of security on a campus. Common sense says that there is safety in numbers.
- Be alert and aware of those around you. Pay attention to where you are and what you are doing. Don’t be distracted by your phone or shut yourself off with earbuds.
- Be sure you have the Campus Security phone number programmed into your phone for quick calling if necessary.
- Take advantage of a campus shuttle or escort service at night if it is available.
- A large percentage of safety incidents on college campuses involve alcohol and drugs. Parents don’t like to think about this, but it is a reality. Students need to be aware and to look out for each other.
- Share phone numbers with parents. Parents should have a phone number for an RA or Residence Director and for a roommate or friend. Obviously, if the student shares these phone numbers, parents should reserve them only for emergency, but they may be important if a crisis occurs and the parent can’t reach the student.
For the most part, college and university campuses are safe places. Students and parents should not be overly concerned about safety, but they should be aware and use common sense. An open conversation with your student about campus policies, your concerns, and his actions, will help him think about safety and help you to feel more secure about his well-being.