College Student Safety: Campus, Dorm and Dating Tips

Almost twenty million students are attending universities and colleges in the U.S. this year.* While this can be an exciting time of newfound independence and expanded horizons, not to mention a great learning experience both academically and socially, it can also bring trepidation and anxiety around safety — for both students and concerned parents.

There continue to be many high-profile sexual assault cases on campuses across the nation, bringing much-needed attention to how serious and widespread this epidemic is. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, colleges and universities need to make big changes, be held accountable for wrongs they’ve committed, and forge a path that will provide campus and cultural safety. 

Students should feel safe on campus. Students should be able to party without having to worry about staying with friends or watching their drinks. Students should be able to have a date come back to their dorm room without worrying about being pressured or coerced into having sex, assaulted or raped. It is woefully unfair that we even need to write this article, and we want to make it clear that a student's choice of location, route, clothing, friends, party or social gathering, drinking habits and digital/online activity never warrants them being targeted for harassment or violence. 

We do believe, however, that choosing to incorporate safety-minded behaviors and actions is an important part of every individual's responsibility for their own wellness. And beyond safety benefits, taking control of your actions can be extremely empowering, leading to greater confidence and increased personal power. 

Below is a summary of our top personal safety and self-defense tips for college and university students.

Campus Safety

1) Stay off your phone when on the move.

 While “date rape” and sexual assaults that happen during or after parties are more common, assaults on students traversing campus or in parking lots happen as well. Make it a habit to keep your eyes up and your ears open and free from headphones or earbuds when on campus. Being aware of your surroundings, whether walking to or from class or walking/jogging, can help you identify a potential threat earlier, buying you some decision-making time. And it signals to others that you're paying attention and alert. 

2) Get in touch with your gut instinct.

Learning your body’s unique physical response to your personal alarm system (gut instinct/intuition), can go a long way toward keeping you safe and avoiding danger. Is a situation, person or place giving you an uncomfortable feeling that you may not even be able to fully articulate? Pay attention to that feeling, take a moment to evaluate the situation and if needed, remove yourself or find a way to make yourself safer if you determine that action is needed.

3) Connect with your campus security center.

We recommend you visit your campus security center and get familiar with the programs offered and important numbers to store in your phone. Colleges and universities frequently offer 24/7 campus monitoring and call centers, free after-hour chaperones across campus, self-defense training classes, blue light alarms across campus and other programs. Get to know them!

4) Use the buddy system.

Have a late class? Get a friend to walk with you. Feel like hitting the pavement for a jog? Grab a friend and get some social time in, too. Going to a party? Have a policy of going together, staying together and leaving together. 

5) Learn where to strike.

Deciding if and when to fight back is entirely up to the person in danger. However, we believe that it's super important that students know how to fight back, so that a lack of knowledge is never the reason why someone doesn't respond physically. When “NO” doesn’t work, it may be time to fight. Aim for eyes, nose, throat, and groin first and foremost. These areas are the most vulnerable and most likely to get a reaction, buying you time to escape to safety. 

6) Learn how to strike.

Most people have heard of the flight-or-fight response, but it's important to note that a freeze response is also possible. It’s a natural reaction, but a scary reality for many individuals. Even a little hands-on training can help you gain valuable confidence. If mandatory self-defense training isn’t a part of freshman orientation, commit to seeking out a reality-based self-defense class, course, or workshop in order to get invaluable hands-on training. Learn more about bringing us to your campus to train with you and your community.

7) Supplement your safety with technology and devices.

Though not a substitute for self-defense techniques, the use of safety apps or other personal safety devices can be a valuable addition to your safety toolbox. We are partial to apps that trigger an alarm when an on-screen button is released rather than pushed. When it comes to personal safety devices, we recommend carrying something that can be easily accessed and simple to use, and one that carries a low-risk of user error, such as our kitty and doggie self-defense keychains.

8) Party smarter.

In an ideal world, students would stop at 2 or 3 drinks, never accept drinks in open cups, and keep an eagle eye on their beverages. The reality is that college students drink and intoxication is a factor in many on- and off-campus sexual assaults. Make a buddy-system pact with friends that nobody is allowed to bring someone back to their dorm room if they are heavily intoxicated, or leave with someone/go to someone else’s room if they are drunk. Notify a trusted friend if you experience symptoms such as: lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, confusion, difficulty balancing, slurred speech, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, or loss of body sensation that seems excessive or inappropriate considering the amount of alcohol you've consumed. 

Dorm Safety

1) Know how to get out.

On moving-in day, familiarize yourself with the quickest emergency escape route out of your dorm.

2) Keep your dorm door open.

If you have someone you don't know well in your dorm room, opt to keep the door open. You can also ask a friend to stop by at a certain time to casually check in. 

3) Close outside doors behind you.

Don't prop outside doors or hold the door for someone you don't recognize. You can always blame it on dorm safety policy and ask them to use their keycard or have their friend come let them in. 

Dating Safety

1) Listen to your gut.

We already listed this tip in our "Campus Safety" section, but it's so important that we're including a second time. Our gut instinct is truly one of the most valuable safety tools we possess. Even if you can’t place your finger on a weird feeling, or general uneasiness, it’s important that you take notice of any such sensations and respect them. If something doesn’t feel right, you can always pull the plug on the date.

2) Practice setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.

Time away at college can mean interacting with the world in an entirely new way, independent of family supervision. It is important for students, particularly women, to learn and practice how to find their own voice and be their own advocates. Setting healthy limits with friends, family, acquaintances, classmates and faculty is an important component of this process. Check out our article on how to set effective boundaries

3) Notify a trusted friend.

  • Send a trusted friend or family member as much information as you have on your date: name, profile name, profile pic, phone number, where they work, where they hang out, etc.

  • Let your friend know where you’ll be meeting this person, at what time, and designate a “check-in” time when you’ll text or call to let your friend know that you got home safely.

  • If this is a blind date, consider bringing a friend with you to the initial meeting. You can always send your friend home after you’ve met the person and feel comfortable with them. Or, you can have them sit across the room unannounced and just text them or signal to them when you feel comfortable enough for them to leave.

4) Common-sense dating safety strategies:

  • Meet in a public, well-lit, well-populated place.

  • Choose a neutral location in a neighborhood that’s not yours.

  • Drive or walk yourself to the date and home from the date.

5) Online dating tips:

  • Use a fake profile name.

  • Go general with where you live (i.e., your college vs. your dorm).

  • Use a unique profile picture that cannot be found anywhere else online.

  • Keep social media accounts private.

  • Avoid posting location-specific information online (i.e., check-ins and geo-locations).

  • Think twice before posting information or photos that show expensive jewelry, clothing, or accessories.

  • If you’re thinking about meeting them in person, speak to them on the phone first and listen for things that don’t add up (i.e., discrepancies in profile or accent).

  • Ask for the person’s first and last name. (Although it can be a legitimate safety choice if they don’t want to give their last name, and not necessarily a red flag.)

  • Look the person up online and check their social media accounts.

  • Perform a reverse image search on their profile picture:

Whether you're heading back to college or just starting out, we wish you a successful, safe and fun year.

Be safe and be well...

Jarrett & Jennie


*National Center for Education Statistics

**Photo: CollegeDegrees360