By Amanda Ferrara, Student at New York University
From the very first day of school, you’re told that your college campus will quickly become your home away from home, a place filled with students who you can rely on and feel at ease around.
As much as your campus may feel like a mini-community, it is still a place where you have to be careful and take certain precautions to remain safe. Whether your school is smack dab in the center of a city that never sleeps or is in the middle of the mountains or a suburban neighborhood, crime and violence can still occur.
Fortunately, there are universal habits that will help you stay safe no matter what environment you are in.
I was able to interview a former classmate who is currently in a graduate program at a school in the rural town of Syracuse, N.Y. Brandy M. moved up to Syracuse this past August just a few short weeks after graduating from a four-year undergrad program at New York University. In her time between starting college in Manhattan as a freshman and the recent big move, she experienced a few incidents, including being followed while walking home from a club and renting an apartment only to discover that a drive-by shooting took place outside her building just a few days prior. She was able to share some advice on how she stayed safe in the big city and how her previous tactics are still relevant now even though she is in a much more rural area today.
Brandy says there are not too many differences when it comes to the precautions she takes to stay safe at both campuses. Her advice when it comes to mugging and robbery is to always watch your back and to constantly make sure you can see who is around you.
On nights where her classes end late, she opts to take the bus back home even though she lives fairly close to campus.
“Basically, make sure you feel safe in a certain area. Take a look at the people around you. Always, always trust your judgment,” she said.
Obviously the darker it gets, the more you should be aware. Going out late at night on the weekend is one of the main scenarios any college student is likely to find themselves in; whether you’re returning from a sorority house or from a club in the middle of the city, the rules to getting home are pretty much the same.
Brandy says she always makes sure she has at least one other friend with her, a fully-charged cellphone and a little bit of knowledge of how to get back home.
“Make sure you aren’t oblivious as to where you are going. In case you and your friends get separated, you can at least know the surrounding street names of where you live,” she said.
You can do this by venturing out during the day. Explore your surroundings in daylight: Get familiar with street names and where they lead to, ask which buses get to locations around campus and your residence hall and look for stores or restaurants that are open 24/7. This way you are not completely uninformed and caught off guard when you go out at night. You should also always keep the phone numbers of cab services, campus safety, friends with cars and a list of the local bus stops and best places to catch cabs listed in your cellphone for easy access.
After grabbing a friend, a fully charged cellphone and a mental picture of your town map, you still are not completely prepared. Below are a few more key tips to remaining safe:
- 1. Don’t have your iPod blasting on high, no matter what time of day it is. While Brandy never listens to music, one of her classmates says, “I listen to music, but I try not to listen to it too loud and I always make sure I am visually aware of what is going on around me.”
- 2. Always walk in populated and well-lit areas; this does not mean a busy intersection or a bustling street, it means a street with stores and lights! As long as you can find a street that is well lit and not completely deserted, you are much safer than you would be walking down a dark, desolate street. If anything goes wrong or you feel unsafe, just head into a store and call for help.
- 3. Follow your gut. After one particular night while studying abroad in Prague where she sensed someone was following her and had to take a longer route to avoid him, Brandy lives by this rule. “If you know a street looks too dark and a bit scary, chances are there is a reason why you are feeling uneasy about it. It is worth the longer walk!”
- 4. While making sure you are with a group of friends when you go out is a typically stated tip, you should also try to include at least one person who lives with you or in the same residence hall. This way, you always have someone to travel with!
- 5. Never just follow the crowd. Take the story of Mina J., who followed her roommate and new friends who seemed “nice enough” to an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In actuality, they were in a car headed about 30 minutes North of that. “I’m honestly surprised nothing worse happened to us,” Mina said. While their lives were never in direct danger, Mina cannot believe that one spontaneous night took her so far out of her comfort zone and it was all because she wanted to stick with the same crowd all night.
- 6. Don’t do anything that you normally wouldn’t do back at home. When you are home, you feel the safest and you know which places to avoid and which places are fairly safe to be at night. If you wouldn’t walk out at 3 a.m. by yourself back at home, why would you do it in a new environment?
Ultimately, remember to be smart, logical and alert. Being in a new environment is stressful and walking home from a night class or party-hopping is not the time to let your thoughts wander and to ignore the things around you!
Brandy’s last words of advice warn against something every girl has been guilty of at some point: “It’s not the time to think about an ex that you had, where he may be now or the cute outfit you will wear tomorrow. Just pay attention!”