Staying Safe on Campus: Common Problems

By Kelly Burch

College campuses have seen crime rates drop over the past 10 years. Still, it’s important to consider your physical safety on campus to protect yourself from crime, accidents, and injury. No crime is ever the victim’s fault, and an accident is just that—an accident—but there are ways to reduce your risk of getting hurt.

The most common crimes that occur on campus are sexual assaults, theft, and physical assaults. Car accidents, fires, and sports injuries can also leave you hurt. Here are eight tips related to the most common safety problems on college campuses and how you can keep yourself safe.

Avoid Drinking or Drink Responsibly

The majority of crimes on campus involve alcohol. It’s important to know that being tipsy or drunk is never an excuse for someone to do something harmful to someone else. And it’s never your fault if you’re assaulted after you’ve been drinking or using any kind of substance. 

But it’s also important to know that drinking—and even being around other people who are drinking—makes your risk of sexual or physical assault increase significantly. You’re also at risk for slipping and falling, car accidents, and other alcohol-related injuries. 

It might seem like everyone is drinking, but less than half of college students report drinking in the past month. If you choose to drink, learn about drinking responsibly

Find out more about the risks of binge drinking and how to keep yourself safe

Don’t Walk Alone at Night

Walking alone, especially at night, can leave you vulnerable—and it can be pretty scary. Follow these suggestions to make walking at night more comfortable and safer:

  • Always walk with at least one other person you trust.
  • Agree to text friends when you’re home safe and plan what you’ll do if one of you doesn’t hear from the other. 
  • Travel well-lit and busy paths rather than dark shortcuts. Many schools have designated paths with security lights or phones for students walking at night.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings and don’t wear headphones.
  • Keep your phone close to call for help if you need it. Familiarize yourself with call boxes on campus that connect you directly with emergency services. If you travel certain routes often, know where the call boxes are. 
  • If you think you’re being followed, don’t go home. Instead, walk to a police station, call box, or public area where you can call for help.
  • Use campus escort services. These services have volunteers who will walk with you, making sure you get where you’re going safely. Look up the number for your campus escort service and add it to the contacts in your phone. 

Consider using a ride-share service or taxi if you don’t feel safe walking.

Learn How to De-Escalate Dangerous Situations

One moment, you’re having a good time at a party, and then suddenly someone is angry or making threats. It can happen in an instant, especially when alcohol and other drugs are involved. Learning how to de-escalate dangerous situations can help you avoid physical assaults. De-escalating means making a situation less dangerous or intense, basically taking the tension way down. 

The best option is always to walk away from a dangerous situation. But if that isn’t possible—because someone follows you or you can’t safely get away—knowing how to de-escalate can help. You or someone else nearby can call for help while you try these techniques:

  • Stay calm. Rather than matching the anger of your aggressor or becoming defensive (an entirely understandable response!), stay as calm as possible. Relax your face and body and use a calm, even tone when speaking.
  • Keep physically safe. Try to keep lots of physical space between you and the other person. Stand off to the side rather than right in front of them. Don’t point at or touch them. 
  • Leave when you can. The goal of de-escalation is to leave the situation safely. When you have the opportunity to get away, take it. Don’t continue to talk to or reason with the aggressor, even if they’re a friend. 

Learn more about de-escalation here and here. Remember, this is really tricky—even professionals like police, professors, and security need practice.

Prevent Theft

Hopefully your campus starts to feel like home, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. You might feel comfortable leaving your laptop out in the dining hall when you run to the bathroom, or carrying your wallet in your hands while walking. But theft (taking something that isn’t yours) and robbery (theft by force) are common on college campuses. Lower your risk by following these tips:

  • Keep valuables out of sight.
  • Never leave laptops or other valuables unattended. 
  • Lock your bike and register it with campus police (if your school offers that service). That way, if it’s stolen and then recovered, police can return it to you. 
  • Lock your doors and windows when you’re not home; ask your roommate to do the same. And get permission from each other before giving anyone else a key.
  • If you’re living off campus, consider renters insurance, which may cover the cost of stolen items.

Be Careful Around Cars

Traffic accidents are a major cause of injury for college students. And not just for students who are driving. If you’re walking, always use a crosswalk, look both ways, and put your phone down when you’re around traffic. Follow traffic laws and don’t text and ride when you’re on a bike.

Practice Fire Safety

Anytime lots of people are living together, fire risk increases. Follow these fire safety tips, including not using candles or overloading electrical outlets. Know the emergency evacuation routes for your dorm or building, and always take fire alarms seriously.

Know Your Emergency Numbers

Most campuses have their own security or even police force. Add the number for campus security to your phone’s Favorites list. But even though campus security can be convenient, you can always call 911 if you’re in an emergency situation.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Sometimes, your mental health can affect your physical health. Learn mental health warning signs, like changes in your behavior, feelings of sadness or frustration, or withdrawing from friends and family. If you experience those, ask for help. If you notice them in a friend, start a conversation with them. Asking for help or talking with a friend about their mental health can feel awkward, but it can go a long way toward helping their or your emotional health.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students. Learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide, ask someone whether they’e considering suicide, or tell someone that you are

If you or someone you know needs help right now: 

  • Text HOME to 741741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
  • Text or call 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
  • If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

Thinking about the ways you can get hurt on campus can be frightening. But planning ahead for your safety can reduce your risk—and give you the peace of mind to fully enjoy life on campus.

Also check out these 5 Ways to Stay Safe From Sexual Assault on Campus

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.