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What parents should know about college safety

Gina LaGuardia, formerly editor-in-chief of CollegeBound Teen Magazine, now serves as the editorial director for The CollegeBound Network, which provides advice and assistance to potential college students of all ages. She also frequentl...

Safety first

It's every parent's worst fear - they send their son or daughter off the college and something bad happens to them. Sadly, there have been too many parents in this situation in recent years, with horrific on-campus events like those that occurred at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.


College safety

When it comes to having a sense of security and confidence in your child's college journey, the best method is to stay informed, says Dr. Uma G. Gupta, former president of Alfred College (S.U.N.Y.). "Learn everything you can about the safety record and statistics of your child's campus. Data should be readily available on campus violence, underage drinking, and hospital transports, to name a few. Study closely the safety of dorms and measures that a campus takes to ensure the safety of its students."

Kim Stezela, an author, advocate, and speaker, advises parents also check out statistics of alleged campus crimes at http://ope.ed.gov/security/main.asp, a service of the U.S. Office of Postsecondary Education. "It can help parents look at trends and compare safety across multiple campuses." Note that all colleges must provide crime information as part of the Clery Act, which requires the full disclosure of information about crime on and around a school's campuses. You may have to specifically ask for it, but it's your right to access.

Protecting against sexual crimesOnce your child becomes a resident of a college campus doesn't mean safety concerns stop there. Among many parents' greatest fear is that their child will fall victim to a sex crime. Research shows that one in four females are sexually assaulted while in college, says Michael Domitrz, executive director of The Date Safe Project and author of "May I Kiss You?" He urges parents to take a straightforward approach with their teen. Talk openly about sex and alcohol, he advises, but try to steer clear of preachiness and negativity.

"Many parents make the mistake of teaching their teenagers that if they drink, bad things will happen to them. If this is the only statement your teen hears from you regarding alcohol and sex, it could make survivors of sexual assault (who have drank alcohol during the night) afraid to tell anyone they were raped," he explains. Instead, open up dialogue with your college-bound son or daughter about how much they can handle and to be on the alert when they're in situations involving alcohol. "Share how dangerous sex can be when mixed alcohol, and teach your teenager to create a 'Buddy System' when going to a party."

Always have an escape

For Jim Galvin, whose 19-year-old daughter just finished her freshman year at Indiana University, safety meant being aware of her surroundings, specifically knowing the location of all fire alarms in buildings she frequented. "I told her - if you're in trouble, you can yell and scream, but more often than not you won't get much reaction. However, pull that fire alarm and you can pretty well bet that something helpful will happen.

Soka University's Director of Security George Wesson stresses the importance of a campus safety program where a team is constantly monitoring buildings and hazards. It may only be monitoring construction dangers or a few baby rattlesnakes dosing on a pathway, as is the case of the 103-acre Soka campus, but irregardless, knowing that someone is watching over your child provides the peace of mind to help you sleep more soundly at night.

It's imperative that those watching are properly trained, however, says Sharon Campbell, who holds a M.A. in occupational safety and health and has worked at Columbia University and several other schools. "Check the qualifications of those in charge of safety at the school, and its track record with OSHA, local fire departments, and other pertinent regulators."

To settle your mind, know that the majority of college students stay safe and thrive while on their idyllic college campuses. Encourage your child to be aware, alert, and to reach out if anything seems amiss. College can should be a safe haven of teens, one devoid of fear. If there is one silver lining in the recent campus tragedies, it's the increased emphasis on security and watchfulness that is making it just that again.

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