Safety on College Campuses
by Leslie Bowman (Sunnie)
High School graduation is one of the most important times in a student's life. Parents are often just as excited as the students and sometimes more so. Many students begin preparing for college during their senior year in high school and sometimes even before that. Decisions are made, applications are sent, final choices are selected, and finally, the summer after high school graduation, serious preparations are made for moving away from home for the first time. This is an exciting time for students and a bittersweet time for parents. Parents are SO proud and yet sad at the prospect that their child is moving out. Parents worry about grades, friends, roommates, studying, the driving back and forth (if the student has a car) and so many other things. Some parents never even think about the potential dangers that college students may encounter -- physical danger from friends and from strangers. Yet this is something about which parents should be VERY concerned, as should their students.
Did you know that in 1999 there were 381,972 crimes on or near college campuses including 744 homicides and 6,444 sexual offenses? Did you know that young women in college are at greater risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than are women in the general population or in a comparable age group? These facts come from the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice.
College students face potential personal danger everyday. These are threats that are specific to the age group for a variety of reasons, some of which include inexperience and living away from home. The PRIMARY reason that high school and college students are more vulnerable to potential personal threat is the It Can't Happen to Me syndrome. Unfortunately, research shows that assaults CAN and DO happen on a daily basis to college students.
Many violent incidents occur as a result of alcohol and drugs. Too often parents are the last to know when it comes to their college students' lifestyles. I have always found it irritating (to put it mildly) that the parent is paying the bills for college and yet all communication goes to the college student. College students have the right to change notification addresses on school records (grades, billing, and other information) so that all correspondence from the college goes to the student and not the parent. Once this change is made by the student, a parent cannot get any information whatsoever from the registrar or the billing office. Refunds for overpayment of various college fees also go to the college student when the parent is the one who paid the fees in the first place. This notification policy at colleges has served to keep parents isolated from their students' college life. Another result is that if a student is charged with a drinking or drug violation, colleges are NOT required to notify parents.
Students' Privacy Rights have, in the past, prevented colleges from notifying parents about alcohol and drug violations. Now a new Parental Notification law PERMITS but does not REQUIRE schools to disclose to parents violations of not only local, state, and federal laws but also school policies and rules governing the use or possession of alcohol or controlled substances. This is a step in the right direction because if drug and alcohol use are curtailed on college campuses then violence will be reduced as well since most violence on college campuses is due to drug and alcohol use.
This does not, however, address the issue of personal safety for students on college campuses. College women are at very high risk of rape and other sexual offenses. Male college students also run a very high risk of personal assault. There are many reasons for this high risk factor and the explanations can be found in the statistical references on my webpage College Student Personal Safety Statistics: http://safenet.homestead.com/statistics.html
While it is important for parents and students to know and understand the risks and threats, it is vitally important that they become educated in awareness and prevention as well as personal safety and protection strategies. Most parents have only to see the statistics to believe that it is necessary to be proactive in ensuring their students' personal safety while living away from home. Sadly, however, students, the very ones who are at risk, are also the ones who turn a deaf ear to parents' pleas to arm themselves with information and safety strategies.
Too many students think that It Can't Happen to Me! And so they shrug off parents' concerns and continue with their lives as though nothing bad could ever happen to them. But bad things do happen to college students and students who are unaware of the potential threats often are the ones who are affected the most. Students who take reasonable precautions have far less risk of encountering violence incidents. And students who know how to protect themselves in a threatening situation have an even better chance of surviving a violent incident.
I have conducted Violence Prevention and Personal Safety presentations for high school and college students since 1994. In every single group I ask "Does anyone know someone who has been the victim of an act of violence?" and at least half the hands in the room go up. Connie and Howard Clery, parents of Jeanne Clery who was murdered in her college dorm room, state that "Our daughter died because of what she didn't know." They have founded Security on Campus, Inc. as a result of their daughter's murder in hopes of preventing other such tragedies. The Security on Campus, Inc. website is linked on my webpage Information from Colleges on Personal Safety: http://safenet.homestead.com/WhatToDo.html
On this webpage you will also find Personal Safety strategies as recommended by college security and campus police departments. I urge parents and students to read this information and commit it to memory. I would also suggest that both male and female college students take a self defense course before going off to college. A good "street defense" class will not take a lot of time during the summer as students are preparing to go off to college in the fall. A good self defense course can be taken in as little as four to six hours -- that is all the time it takes to "get the basics" in protecting yourself from potential violence. Courses such as this provide students (and parents) with, first and foremost, INFORMATION about awareness and prevention strategies and further, on simple yet effective personal self defense techniques. Some colleges have self defense courses available for students at different times during the school year. One good example (and an outstanding program) is at University of Maryland (linked on the webpage cited in the previous paragraph). RAD is an excellent and effective program that is taught by experienced trainers around the country and if you can find the program in your area or at your college, please take advantage of this training - there is none better anywhere. I have been privileged to participate in training with a RAD trainer and I was extremely impressed with the program and the credentials of the trainers, who must go through a rigorous training program before receiving certification to teach in a RAD program.
Having two sons in college and having worked with high school and college students for many years, I have found that when given a choice, students will not participate in a Personal Safety Awareness program or in a self defense class. However, it is interesting to note that when a program is presented to students in a classroom, a program about which they have no choice but to participate, they are interested, involved and appreciative. I am always stopped in the hallways after presentations by groups of students who say they found the information valuable. There are also, sadly, many students who want to share a personal story about a violent incident. And in every case, the students say they wish they had heard my presentation a year or more ago.
The bottom line is that most students, given a choice, will find other things to do rather than sit through a Violence Prevention/Personal Safety presentation. That means it is up to us as parents and teachers to not only make the information available, but to do so in a way that leaves no choice regarding attendance. It is also left up to us to check out the colleges that our children plan to attend and make sure that parental notification is in effect and that precautions are being taken to ensure our children's personal safety while they are living away from home. We must be proactive in ensuring the personal safety of our high school and college students.
We invite you to read the transcript of an online session conducted by Sunnie concerning Personal Safety. Go to http://teachers.net/archive/security.html Private Security and Self Defense.
Leslie Bowman (Sunnie) is a frequent contributor to the Teachers.Net Gazette. Other articles written by her are;