“Obviously, going to college, you’re on your own for the first time and you want to get out and meet new people,” says Scott Williamson, a junior who’s on a campus safety task force at Indiana University (iub.edu). “But keep your wits about you.”
Tom Kane, author of Protect Yourself at College, notes that at least 80 percent of crimes against college students are perpetrated by other students. “Just because you have 20 new friends in your residence hall doesn’t mean they’re all honorable people,” he says.
It’s not your fault if something bad happens to you. Still, you can do a lot to stay safe.
Lock your door
Lock your dorm whenever you’re asleep or gone. “Treat your dorm like a hotel, not your bedroom,” says Jonathan Kassa, executive director of Security on Campus. “If you walk down the hall in a hotel, you’re not going to typically see doors propped open.”
Use the buddy system
Returning late from a night class or club meeting? Walk back with a classmate.
Every college has resources to keep students safe, like phones that connect to the campus police department or escorts to walk with you at night. Find out what your college offers.
Cut back on the booze
Alcohol makes you more likely to do stupid things. Besides, drinking is illegal until you’re 21. Find activities that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.
Fire alarm? Leave!
False fire alarms are so common at colleges that some students sleep through them! But leave the building every time the alarm goes off. Your dorm might actually be on fire!
Think before you post
Some students post their schedules on Facebook or Tweet when they’re heading to class. That tells strangers your iPod is in your room unattended.
Buy a shredder
College students are targets for identity theft because they usually have clean credit records, Kane says. Shred credit-card offers and other papers with personal information on them.
Lock your car
Vehicles are stolen a lot on college campuses. Prevent that by parking in a lighted area and locking your car. Ditto for your bike.
Jonathan Kassa of Security on Campus suggests these questions:
1. How safe is your school? Colleges have to report crimes to the federal government. Find statistics for any American campus at ope.ed.gov/security.
2. What are the college’s arrangements with local law enforcement?
3. Where’s the annual security report? Federal law says each college has to produce one. These reports include crime statistics and campus security policies.
4. What victim support services are available on campus? Can you report any kind of assault confidentially so they’re not reported to police?
Rebecca VanderMeulen has a degree in journalism from American University (www.american.edu).