The college brochure features glossy photos of ivy-covered buildings and groups of diverse students chatting in autumnal sunlight. There are photos of young people sitting attentively in a lecture hall, or cheerfully handling pipettes, or engaging in an intense discussion with a professor. You probably won't see images of security guards and campus police. It's unlikely that the brochure will include a table of statistics of crimes committed on campus. But all the scenes of comfort and learning are made possible by your college's careful attention to security and safety.

People are fond of making a distinction between college and the "real world." However, college is the real world; it is your real world for the next four years or more. And while your real world includes exciting lectures and maybe even sun-dappled conversations in the quad, it also contains some dangers and requires your awareness.

Your school's role in keeping you safe is to provide campus police, well-lit walkways, education on potential risks and prevention, emergency training and drills, and to coordinate with state and local agencies to stay abreast of best practices in campus security. Your role is to use these resources and education to guide your behavior.

This chapter will provide a overview of campus safety issues, including

  • drinking and drugs
  • sexual assault
  • burglary and robbery
  • identity theft
  • stalking
  • general tips for being safe

Drinking and Drugs

Your health and safety are directly affected by your use (or non-use) of alcohol and drugs. The lower your inhibitions and more clouded your judgment the more likely you are to put yourself at risk or to put others at risk. We don't intend to be preachy in this chapter, but we must be real: the college years, especially the early college years, are a time when many people experiment with alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol Poisoning SymptomsDespite being pervasive on many college campuses, alcohol and drugs are devastating
to the health and safety of college students. Much of campus crime and injury is attributable to the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs, as they negatively impact behaviors and impair judgment. Here are some statistics from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to remind you of the role these substances play in the lives of college students between the ages of 18 and 24:

  • Every year nearly 600,000 students are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol
  • More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or acquaintance rape
  • 400,000 students had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 report being too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex
  • 1,800 students die each year from alcohol-related injuries, including car crashes

The best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to stay sober. If you are in a situation where you feel people have gotten out of control, leave. If you believe others may be at risk, contact the proper authorities. You could save someone's life.

Sexual Assault

We'll focus on facts and tips related to the most common type of sexual assault (a female victim and a male perpetrator), though males of course can be victims of sexual attacks. Sexual assault of all forms is widely believed to be underre- ported. According to a recent US Department of Justice report on sexual assault of college campuses,

  • 90% of college women who are raped know their attacker
  • Most women are more concerned about "stranger danger" than the possibility of being attacked by an acquaintance, friend, ex-boyfriend, or other known person

DO NOT accept drinks from peopleCampus security escorts and defense training are available at most colleges. By all means take advantage of these resources—just remember the safest bet is to stick with a group of trusted friends. Friends should watch out for each other, especially at parties, to make sure no one is left isolated and vulnerable to a bad situation or that no one gets out of control and acts in a threatening manner toward someone else. 

Be particularly careful around alcohol, as it is considered the #1 date-rape drug because it lowers inhibitions. To make matters worse, some perpetrators will slip sedatives, such as Rohypnol ("Roofie"), into drinks of unsuspecting partygoers. Such drugs have an amnesiac effect, and leave victims vulnerable to attack.

Burglary and Robbery

Most common criminal offenses on US campusesBy far the most common on-campus crime is burglary. While you don't need a special pickpocket-proof wallet or a wrist-cuff for your laptop, take reasonable precautions to protect your valuables in your dorm room and when you're out and about on campus. Also, if you have a bike, invest in a good bike lock and use it. When you're off campus, try not to carry valuables or a lot of cash. Avoid ATMs in isolated or sketchy areas.

Identity Theft

Who are you? You might delve into the depths of this question in Philosophy or Identity Politics. But in this section we're mostly just talking about your name, your social security number, and your cash.

Identity theft is when someone steals your name and personal information for their financial gain. It can come in many forms and the effects can be devastat- ing financially for several years. College students are particularly vulnerable to identify theft because they receive frequent credit card applications, tend to store personal information on their computers and cell phones, and infrequently reconcile their bank or credit card balances. Even if you don't have many assets right now (a microwave, ten pairs of socks, and a stack of textbooks), thieves can steal your future earnings by racking up debt in your name now.

Prevent identity theft on campus by:

Stalking and Harrassment

Harassment and stalking are other problems that college-aged students encounter more frequently than other age groups. According to the United States Department of Justice, there are "seven types of harassing or unwanted behaviors consistent with stalking":

  • making unwanted phone calls;
  • sending unsolicited or unwanted letters or e-mails;
  • following or spying on the victim;
  • showing up at a place where they had no reason to be;
  • waiting at places for the victim;
  • leaving unwanted items, presents, or flowers;
  • posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.

If you have experienced two or more of these behaviors on two or more separate occasions and if you fear for your safety please notify campus police.

Cyber Safety

Here are some things you can do right now to ensure your cyber safety: 

About Cyber SafetyProtect yourself by using privacy settings, lock screens, and preventative software. Make sure that if you lose your phone or lose track of your tablet no one would be able to access the personal information it contains. You can install anti-theft software that allows you to lock your device remotely. You can also install anti-virus software to protect yourself from malware. The cost of the protective software will be well worth it if your computer, tablet, or phone is compromised. 

Password-protect your laptop, other devices, and accounts. Make sure you don't share your password and make sure the password is strong. Don't trust your memory to retain anything but your pet's name and birthdate? Consider using an app like PasswordBox or LastPass to organize and protect your various passwords. 

Recognize phishing. "Phishing" is an email fraud scam. If you receive an email that seems legitimate—say, from your bank or your school—and it asks you to verify an important piece of personal information, such as your social security number, do not click. Do not verify information, even if it's just verifying your email address, until you call the supposed source of the request and verify that it is indeed legitimate.

Avoid using public computers or WiFi for private communication or shopping.
Public computers may have a keystroke logger that records everything you type. Insecure networks might expose you to malicious mischief or worse.

Remember that nothing's temporary online. Post and share only that information and those images that you'd feel comfortable sharing with a wide audience becuase it's always possible that you'll have a wider audience than you intended.  Your activity on Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Facebook is a few clicks away from being shared with the world.

Don't be a cyber criminal.  Let's say you're broke.  Let's say you want some new music or a free movie. Remember: it's a common crime, but a crime nonetheless.  File sharing software and peer-to-peer (P2P) services make it easy to share music and movies.  However, if doing so violates a copyright then it would be stealing. Check out for more information, including this reminder that they have posted: "You are not anonymous."

Other Tips and Information

Colleges are required to file crime statistics with the federal government. Go to if you're curious for more information about your school.

Check around your campus and community for safety education and workshops. Attending an orientation or class will help you learn more about the resources and considerations particular to your school and its environs.

We'll end this chapter with these good general tips:

Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Pay attention to where your belongings are at all times.

Familiarize yourself with your campus—know where well-lighted paths, emergency phones, and campus police stations are located.

Keep your cell phone on you and store emergency numbers so you can dial them easily.

Try to avoid being alone in isolated areas of the campus, such as the basement laundry room or even your own residence hall room when other students are not close by.

Protect your privacy. Don't list your picture, name, and contact information where people can easily access it. Assume that information you post on social networking sites is available to the general public.

If you notice another person in danger, call 911 or campus security. Do not engage with another person who has a weapon.

Do not use ATMs after dark or in isolated places.

Don't carry a lot of cash or valuables. Cash, nice jewelry, and other valuables
are easy targets for thieves.

Do not accept drinks from others, as drinks can easily be drugged.

National Crisis Hotlines

Campus Safety Exercises

  1. Take time right now to 1) locate your campus security office, 2) program relevant emergency numbers into your phone, 3) research transportation options to and from campus: What are the hours of service? How safe is each mode of transportation?, and 4) ask around to find out if there are areas of town to avoid at certain times of the day or night.
  2. Write a list of the upcoming workshops or events focused on safety. Will you attend any of them? Why or why not?
  3. Assess your social network safety. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is "most personal" and 1 is "least personal," how do you rate your Facebook or MySpace page? What can you do to better protect yourself in cyberspace?
  4. Research social network safety and security. Come up with 5 rules for yourself based on your research. Discuss your findings with classmates.
  5. Research identity theft and security. Come up with 5 rules for yourself based on your research. Discuss your findings with classmates.


for more resources and exercises.