Guest Post by Laura Burkhart, MD

“Safety doesn’t happen by accident”

When talking with your teen about making the transition to college, we often focus on the positive, as it is definitely an amazing life changing event.  You want your teen to successfully adapt in making more responsible choices, while remaining safe and protected inside the walls of a college campus.  However, there is a very important topic that often gets missed in that crucial time before they start classes.  That is the subject of campus crimes and security.   I am not writing this to send you running to lock your teen in their room, ensuring their safety by never letting them out and feeding them through the door!   This post is meant to open the dialogue between you and your teen about personal safety.

College campuses were once thought of as “Ivory Towers”, protected from the dangerous individuals and violent acts of the rest of the world.  It is the hope that every student has an affirmative college experience, but we know from numerous stories and statistics that is not always the case. So how can you find out about the safety of the college campuses your teen is looking at? Its actually easier then you think, but that was not always the case. It is important to respect the history and personal tragedy that allows us to access this information so readily today.

The federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) requires colleges and universities, both public and private, to publish an annual crime report and divulge their security policies. It also requires students and campus employees to be provided timely warnings about a crime posing an immediate or ongoing threat. The law and its amendments ensure certain basic rights for victims of campus sexual assaults and provide programming on campus prevention. The act was championed by Connie and Howard Clery and named after their daughter Jeanne Clery, who was murdered in her dorm room by a fellow student at Lehigh University in 1986. The lack of information and warning of crimes committed on campus to students and families shocked the Clerys who felt this information might have saved their daughter. Congress approved the Clery Act and it went into effect in 1991. For more information on the Clery Act you can visit: http://clerycenter.org/ and http://www.cleryact.info/home.html. To access data from different institutions of interest visit the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool at http://ope.ed.gov/Security/. It is crucial to keep in mind that crimes on campus can be underreported, so use this tool as a guide and not necessarily a security blanket.

The Clery Act affects all potential and current college students and families, by requiring transparency of crime on campus and making this information readily available to everyone. It is essential to talk to your teen about being aware of their surroundings and empower them to listen to their intuition when something doesn’t feel right. Remember you are still an incredibly important influence and by starting to talk about it now, you can help guide your teen to living smart and not in fear. This also opens the door for your teen to see you as an ally in the future and come to you for help and support if needed, instead of thinking they have to “deal with it” on their own. Every student has the right to a healthy and happy education, and having this discussion with your teen now is the best start.

There are many resources out there to help facilitate the conversation, but a couple to get you started:

College Safety 101: Miss Independent’s Guide to Empowerment, Confidence, and Staying Safe by Kathleen Baty (geared towards young women but helpful for young men too)

Protect Yourself at College: Smart Choices-Safe Results by Thomas M Kane (helpful for both parents and students)

Tips for Parents:

  • Start the discussion by acknowledging that your teen is capable of taking care of themselves, but in order to be safe everyone needs to be cautious.
  • Try to avoid scaring your teen into taking extra precautions-this might give them the message that you don’t trust their judgement and they might tune you out or start an argument.
  • It is okay to share a personal story related to this topic if you have one and think it would be helpful. Remember your goal is not to terrify them, but your experiences can lend you credibility with your teen.
  • Bring up the importance of knowing the emergency procedures for their campus, making sure their phone is registered to receive call or texts from the college when emergencies arise.

Tips for Students:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. This doesn’t mean you need to live in paranoia, but trust your gut if you get a bad feeling about someone or a situation.
  • Stick together! This means having friends you trust with you in unfamiliar situations and just like you don’t want them leaving you alone, don’t do the same to them. This part is especially true if alcohol is involved.
  • Look into self defense classes. These can not only teach you the skills to defend yourself, but also give you the confidence to make your college experience your own.
  • Even though it may feel like your dorm is just like home, people in there might not have your best interest at heart. Always lock your doors and don’t hesitate to call security if you are feeling unsafe.