As hectic college life begins, don't overlook security issues

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As I was deciding what college to attend, I didn't think too much about campus safety.

My mom worried about me going to school in New Haven, Conn. -- a city that doesn't, perhaps, have the best reputation when it comes to safety -- but I had so much else to think about.

I was busy imagining what classes would be like, wondering how accessible professors would be and trying to figure out what each school's students were like.

Even after I decided, I still didn't think much about staying safe. The summer before freshman year was filled with so many other college preparations, I thought about campus safety only when articles on campus crime appeared in my room, courtesy of my mother.

There was just so much else to keep me busy. There were awkward e-mail exchanges with future roommates: Future roommate No. 1: Hi, I'm so excited to virtually meet you. I'm sure we'll be good friends!

Future roommate No. 2: Definitely. Is anyone bringing an iron? I'm thinking of bringing one.

Future roommate No. 3: It's going to be so strange going to school up north. I've never had hot chocolate.

Me: What?? Hot chocolate is only one of the most delicious beverages, etc.

There were shopping excursions to Bed Bath & Beyond. (I promise not all the items on their college checklist are necessary.) I'm still not entirely certain what "tension rods" are, though a Google search informed me you use them to hold up curtains, not to relieve stress) and there were hours spent packing up my room.

Even when I got to campus, safety didn't feel like a huge concern, though I did pay attention during the talks on campus safety during orientation.

I dutifully entered numbers into my phone, such as the Yale Escort Service, which provides a security officer to walk students anywhere on campus they want to go 24/7, and the Yale Minibus, which is available at night to give students a ride.

And I still have a card they handed out with safety numbers in my wallet: Yale Police, Yale Health Services, YUHS Urgent Care, Share Center for when "you or a friend are in need of sexual assault services."

I've never had to pull out the card except to look at it for this story, and the only time I've called the police was when a visiting friend somehow managed to accidentally press the red emergency button on one of the about 400 security blue phones stationed around Yale's campus.

I guess it's good to know the response time is extremely quick -- a voice came out from the speaker before I'd really even had time to process what she'd done.

But while I've never had to call emergency numbers, friends have had to call. In fact, it was when I was thinking about a friend who was attacked and robbed at the end of the school year that the idea of campus safety for my essay came to mind.

College is filled with so many incredible experiences, and concerns about campus safety shouldn't interfere with any of them. But it's worthwhile to at least know what you should do to protect yourself, even before the orientation packets arrive.

In between poring over your college's course catalog and deciding which pair of old flip-flops will become shower shoes, reading up on how safe your campus is, and what it recommends you do to protect yourself, is certainly not a bad idea.

Many schools have safety tips they put online, and the tips often overlap. Common ones include always locking doors and windows, not letting people you don't know into your building, not walking alone at night and utilizing security escorts.

I was pleased to find that Yale's security website also offers a more unusual tip: "Use Operation Identification: Borrow an electric engraver pen from the Police Department or the Master's Office and mark all your belongings with your driver's license number and the state in which it was issued."

I also discovered that campus safety data for all schools is made public.

Named for a 19-year-old who was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University residence hall in 1986, the Jeanne Clery Act requires that schools release information about crime on and around their campuses. The act has a website, which includes three years of crime data for all colleges and universities, accompanied by a glossary and other information about campus safety.

Such statistics don't tell the whole story -- for instance, they say nothing about how a school handles the crimes -- but they do provide concrete information, and it's worth taking a look.

Last bit of advice? If someone does start leaving information on campus safety around the house, go ahead and read it. You never know when such information might help you protect yourself.


Katie Falloon, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, is a junior at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where she is an English major and pre-med student. She can be reached at localnews@post-gazette.com .


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