Expert Advice for students and parents on being safe at college
By New Caanon, Connecticut Reporter Kirtan Sveda
After the carting of plastic crates, comforters, shower caddies and laptops to your child’s dorm, New Canaan experts advise that it is not too late to have the important conversations with your college student about safety during the critical first semester. In the second of our two-part series on college campus safety we talked to local experts about the latest ways campuses are keeping kids safe and how parents can help.
“For first-year students, it’s a huge transition,” said Todd Pelozza, director of campus safety for Fairfield University. The campus has made efforts to address the nation’s growing concerns to improve the safety of students with a number of programs on campus including freshmen orientation seminars, safe rides, personal inventory lists, and residence hall floor initiatives, as well as training for on-campus police and greater ease for students to report crimes so they can be documented and counted.
First six to eight weeks are highest risk
“We encourage students to take advantage of self-defense classes through the rape aggression defense program at our school,” said Pelozza of the school’s nationally recognized program that focuses on 360-degree awareness and how to break away if they are confronted. For many students, the likelihood of an incident happening is greatest during the first six to eight weeks on campus, said Pelozza. “It’s the red zone. It’s a particularly vulnerable period of time,” he added. “It’s important to make connections. Be aware.”
According to the National Institute of Justice, those first six to eight weeks on campus students are most likely to get involved with high-risk drug and alcohol consumption and hazing, leaving students at greater risk of becoming victims of a crime. “Putting yourself at risk by compromising your cognitive ability — drinking in particular — lends itself to decreased inhibitions, and risk taking,” said Pelozza.
“We always advise our students to watch out for each other through bystander intervention, and to make safe choices, to be respectful of others, and take advantage of the university resources available to them,” said Stephanie Reitz of UConn, Stamford. Resources at UConn include orientation education, staff and police training and a robust review system to hold perpetrators accountable.
New Canaan is doing its part to ensure college students are as prepared as they can be when they start college. Recently, Grace Farms held a campus safety panel in cooperation with New Canaan Domestic Violence Partnership to raise awareness about sexual assault on campus (Advertiser, Aug. 25, page 1).
New Canaan Chief of Police Leon Krolikowski annually writes a column on school safety for the Advertiser; it was published Aug. 12. Nearly 98% of college campus crimes are theft related, according to Krolikowski, whose own children currently attend college. He recommends parents and teens do their homework. “Read and learn from your school’s campus crime report (The Clery Act requires colleges to disclose information about crimes on campus),” he said. U.S. News and World Report and websites like bestcolleges.com also rank schools for campus safety based on their reported statistics.
Police chief’s tips
The chief also offered these tips to teens while they are on campus: copy important documents, credit cards, ID cards, etc., and give a copy to your parents; do not go to ATM machines at night; drink in moderation; lock up belongings in your dorm; mark your valuables with an identifying number to discourage theft; and locate the emergency system on your campus.
“Most campuses have emergency call buttons or phones scattered about the campus,” said Chief Krolikowski.
“Don’t take unnecessary risks,” agrees Pelozza. “Leave valuables at home; don’t leave things out in the open; walk in well-lighted areas; don’t walk alone if you don’t have to. Most crimes on a college campus are crimes of opportunity.”
New phone safety app
For those who have to walk alone from time to time, said Pelozza, many campuses like Fairfield University encourage students to download the latest safety app: EmergenSee. The app activates live streaming of video and audio to local police with just one tap. “It’s like having a blue light on your phone,” said Pelozza. It has a virtual escort feature that sends a reminder after the time period in which you should reach your destination and asks you if you have. If you don’t respond, it sends a message to public safety. “We are really excited about this feature,” said Pelozza.
The app would also work in a crisis situation like a campus shooting, said Pelozza. It’s a subject top of mind for many in light of recent shootings across the country. “It’s prudent for every university to always review what they are doing and how they are doing it,” said Pelozza, noting Fairfield’s extensive training with staff and students for such a crisis. “Because we are a safe campus, we need to keep people aware that anything can happen any time—to have that 360-degree awareness about themselves. The app would help in that type of situation. If they activate their phone, it would show real time audio and visual at the scene.”
Parenting 201: Be supportive, not controlling
For parents, it seems the most difficult part is taking a back-row seat and letting your young adult make decisions on his or her own. But experts agree parents don’t have to sit idle. “Be a sounding board,” said Fairfield University’s Pelozza. “Be supportive, but also let your son or daughter manager his or her way through the academic year. If parents continue to resolve every issue, it inhibits growth.”
Have conversations with your child about safety on campus and off, about sexual assault and about alcohol and drug use (and the related risks), advises Chief Krolikowski. For some parents, the best time to talk is after your son or daughter is at college and settled in.
“Set up weekly times when it works for their schedule,” recommends Jacqueline D’Louhy, youth and family services coordinator for the town of New Canaan who co-coordinated the safety panel at Grace Farms. Experts agree technology is making it easier for parents and college students to keep in touch. Gone are the days a dorm room landline was your only connection. Text them. Call them. Follow them on Facebook. Visit them, and encourage them to come home for holidays. Look for slight changes in their personality.
“If they are irritable it might be stress, but it could also mean something happened,” said D’Louhy. Keep a weekly phone call schedule and don’t let them push it off and say they are busy. “Put it on them and say, ‘I’m really missing you and I really need this for me,’” said D’Louhy.
Repetition is a good thing, she added. “You can sound like a broken record but one time that the parent brings it up might be the time they want to talk about it.”