Although the thought of your child going away to college elicits feelings of pride and anticipation, it might also evoke concern about violence on college campuses. But rather than just worry, this should prompt you to investigate the security and safety of your child’s prospective colleges and to have a chat with your student. Also you can check campus security at the website of the federal Jeanne Cleary Act, which requires campuses receiving federal aid to report crimes and have certain security procedures in place.
What to Ask the College
Before you send your teen off to any college, have a serious discussion with campus security or an administrator. Don’t do this in front of your student; it will only be embarrassing. Slip off on your own or make a phone call privately. Then ask:
1. What procedures do you have in place to protect my child in the event of an emergency such as the Virginia Tech shooting?
Shortly after the Virginia Tech shootings, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators issued an analysis with recommendations. Parents should expect answers to these questions when discussing this issue with campus security:
- Has the school done a full assessment of potential catastrophic risks and does it have plans in place to address these risks?
- Does the school have an appropriate emergency team in place? Do team members regularly participate in emergency preparedness exercises?
- Does the school have multiple means to communicate with students, faculty, and visitors in the event of an immediate, ongoing emergency situation? Do plans exist to direct people to a safe location?
- What communication and coordination networks exist among campus security leadership, local law enforcement, political officials, first responders, and health officials, both on an ongoing basis and in case of emergency? Is there a specific integrated emergency response plan? Do all the agencies that might be involved in emergency run drills on campus to prepare?
- Is the training of campus security personnel appropriate to potential risks?
2. Is there 24-hour campus security in place?
And, ask what kind of assistance is available if your student wants an escort back to the dorm or parking lot late at night.
3. Is the campus well lit and are security cameras in place?
Is lighting maintained? Are there security cameras or emergency call boxes located throughout campus? Ask about camera locations and placement as well as how they are monitored.
4. Are self-defense classes available for students?
Many college campuses offer self-defense classes, especially for women. Encourage your student to take advantage of them if they are available.
5. Is it mandatory for students and staff to wear and use IDs?
Dorms, in particular, should require the use of a student IDs for entry and other buildings should also be secure at all times.
What to Say to Your Child
- Explain the warning signs of violent, aggressive behavior and reassure your child it’s OK to ask for help when frightened, threatened, or unsure of a situation.
- Emphasize that safety should be a priority. Women should never walk alone on or off campus, especially at night.
- Reiterate that alcohol and drugs often lead to dangerous, aggressive behavior. Sexual assaults, violence and sheer stupidity can ruin lives or lead to fatal consequences.
- Brainstorm what can put your child in a compromising position: being alone with a stranger; flirting without the intention of pursuing a relationship; participating in illegal activities that could escalate.
- Discuss safety basics: Lock the dorm door at night; call for a campus escort when alone; have emergency numbers programmed into the cell phone; read the school’s emergency plans together.
We can’t hold our children’s hands their entire lives. But we can be responsible parents, gather campus safety information and teach them the rules. We did it for them when they were toddlers. We should certainly do that for them before they head off to college.