Conversation with a College Campus Safety Expert

Advice from the editorial director of the Campus Safety Journal


What questions should students and parents ask tour guides or college representatives when visiting campuses?

Tour guides are probably not your best source of information; they do not usually have extensive statistics or information on campus safety. I suggest approaching students you see on the college campus who are involved in their normal routine and asking them about their perceptions of campus safety. While it is important to keep in mind that this type of unscientific “man on the street” survey should not be taken too seriously, students might provide some insight you can use. If you do this at all of the campuses you visit, you can compare the answers and get a general idea about how comfortable students are.

Also, if I were a parent on a tour with my son or daughter, I would stop by the campus public safety office or police department and chat with the employees there. Of course, they will be putting their best foot forward, but it can be enlightening when you compare the departments at different campuses that you visit.

What should parents/guardians and students look for on campuses and in the student housing to ensure safety?

One key item to look for in residence halls is the access control system. That is, how are residents differentiated from non-residents when entering the buildings? Other things to look for: evidence that external doors are frequently propped open, sufficient lighting in and around the main entrance, and shrubbery and trees pruned back from first- and second-floor windows.

What crime statistics should parents and students request from a school before arriving on campus?

Requesting information from the college is one way to do it. The college is legally mandated to provide that information. I also suggest parents and students do their own research. The Department of Education compiles and makes available campus safety statistics by reporting criminal offenses for over 6,000 colleges and universities in the United States at the following Web site: http://ope.ed.gov/security/.

Again, it is important to keep in mind that oftentimes these types of comparisons are not apples to apples, especially when you look at data from a large urban campus with a high percentage of commuter students and compare it to campus safety data from a suburban or rural campus with a large base of resident students.

Another caveat is that a campus safety department that is doing a good job cracking down on crime on campus will report more crimes than a department that is asleep at the switch and reporting fewer crimes. Even though there are more crimes reported at the first campus, I would argue that the proactive campus safety department makes the first campus safer than the second one does.

What preventative measures work best for students to stay safe on their college campus? Do you have any additional safety tips or advice for students beginning their first year on campus?

It is important to remember that colleges and universities are generally safe places. An 18- to 22-year-old is safer, statistically, on their college campus than they are off campus. Because campuses are safer, it can lead to students often letting down their guard. Therefore, the bottom line is that there is no substitute for personal vigilance when it comes to campus safety.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This article was written by Tom Nelson

Tom Nelson is the editorial director of Campus Safety Journal, the only national publication dedicated to safety and security at middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities. Visit www.campusjournal.com for more information.

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