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Playing it Safe
By Maria Sanchez-Traynor

It was only 7:30 pm when Jennifer Miller, a junior at the University of Tampa, was walking back to her dorm room in urban Tampa with her friend. They had gone just five blocks away to the local performing arts center to see a concert. While crossing a bridge, they were so close to their school that they stopped to watch the nearby UT baseball practice. Suddenly, they heard a noise behind them--they turned around to see a man with a gun. Jennifer immediately threw down her bag and backed up without saying anything; her friend quickly followed. The man picked up their bags and was about to walk away when he noticed the girls' necklaces. Without a word, he ripped them off their necks and ran away. The girls ran to a university call box and contacted the authorities.

Although she lost her backpack, several notebooks and her wallet, Jennifer says she misses her sense of security most of all. Ever since then, she has never walked unescorted around campus after dark, and has never ventured off-campus at night without a group of friends.

"Whenever I think about it, I'm like, 'Wow, that happens here--and it's such a small school,'" says Jennifer. "It makes me scared about how much happens at schools in bigger cities."

Though college can seem to be a world unto itself, crime knows no boundaries.

"Just because you're in an academic setting . . . doesn't mean crime and violence [stop] at the border," says Myra Kodner, program coordinator for Security on Campus Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to crime prevention on college campuses.

Although many universities have improved their security measures, campus crime is still a problem. Currently, the Chronicle of Higher Education, which publishes a yearly review of campus safety, lists liquor-law violations, forced sexual offenses, and hate crimes as the most prevalent threats to students.

The Chronicle's safety review wasn't always possible; schools have only been required to publish safety information since 1990 with the passage of Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Enacted by Congress in response to the 1986 murder of Jeanne Clery on the campus of Lehigh University, the act (among other things) requires all schools to publish yearly crime statistics.

Many students feel safe on their campuses, but acknowledge that they should take precautions. "I have no problems walking around campus at night, but you've always got to know what's going on around you," says Connie Yang, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. Yang keeps safe by being aware of the safety of neighborhoods around her school, and by learning what types of crime happen on her campus.

As Kodner says, "Education is empowerment."

Reduce the Risk
No school is immune to crime--no matter how big or small the campus. While it isn't possible to avoid all campus crime, you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim.

Use the security services provided by your university.
If your dorm has doors that lock automatically, don't prop them open. If your university requires a card to get into buildings, don't lend it out. Sarah Wisner, a junior at Washington University, didn't start using her university's safety services until it was almost too late. "One day I saw that a girl had gotten assaulted at three am at a place where I had walked by myself at midnight," says Wisner. "Ever since then I've always called the escort service."

Pay extra attention to your surroundings when you're new at school.
Freshmen and transfer students are often more at risk than students familiar with their campus. Kodner says that more sexual assaults happen at the beginning of the semester--when students are still new.

Kim Edwards, a junior at Clark Atlanta University, has noticed this at her school. Clark Atlanta has a curfew for freshmen: midnight Sunday through Thursday, and two am on Fridays and Saturdays. To avoid it, students leave basement windows open to sneak in after-hours. Sometimes they forget to shut them.

"It never fails--every year there's a guy who [sneaks] into the freshman dorms," says Edwards. "A lot of times [the freshmen] just don't think about what they're doing."

Don't walk by yourself at night, even if you're a guy.
Many campuses have improved outdoor lighting and have installed call boxes to put you in touch with authorities in an emergency. However, if no one's around, and there's no box close by, you may be in serious trouble if attacked.

Men aren't immune to this danger. In fact, men may have more of a chance of being victims, according to Adan Tejada, a lieutenant in the University of California at Berkeley's Police Department. "[A] significant number of male students . . . don't think they'll be a victim," he says. "The females tend to be much more receptive [to] using our services than men. Most of the time when we get a call [for] a street robbery, it's a man by himself at night."

Many schools offer escort services; though sometimes inconvenient, they keep you safe. If your school doesn't have one, call a friend or a roommate to help you out.

Check if your school publishes its phone directory on the Web.
Many schools publish students' personal information--phone numbers and email addresses--on the Web. The information can put your private life out in the open--making you easy prey. Under an amendment to the 1974 Family Educational Right to Privacy Act, your university must remove your personal information if you ask.

As Queen Nworisa, a junior at Pennsylvania State University, discovered, having private information on a Web site can be frightening. Queen's best friend received a huge package containing a letter and a box while Queen was with her. The letter read, "From the KKK and White Alliance:Know your place in society and go back home." The girls, who are African-American, called Queen's RA and campus security. The campus police took the unopened box and later told the girls that it contained a monkey with a noose around its neck.

"All I could think was, 'Why would someone do this?'" Queen says.

Surprisingly, the incident wasn't exactly a hate crime. A boy with a crush on Queen's friend was trying to get her attention with a "joke"; he found her address on the university's Web site. "She didn't like him--and she purposely didn't give him her information," Queen says.

Derek Wan, a junior and an RA from the College of New Jersey, says most of the hate crimes at his school weren't physical assaults--most happened over the phone or email. To maintain your privacy, or avoid being harassed, ask your university to remove your personal information from its Web site.

Check the security records of your campus.
If you want to protect yourself, start by looking up the safety statistics your school publishes as a result of the Clery Act. This year universities must also provide updates about the safety of surrounding neighborhoods. Your school can distribute the information in a variety of ways--if you don't know how to find it, ask your campus police department. With that information, you'll know what's happening on campus--and you can watch out for dangerous neighborhoods.

Avoid people who act dangerously.
If you hang out with people that do dangerous things, you may become a victim of their behavior. The Harvard School of Public Health found that seventy-seven percent of students who live around binge drinkers will experience at least one secondhand effect of the drinking, including sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances, having property vandalized or having sleep or study interrupted.

Don't think that you--or your college--are immune to these problems.
"Kids at this age think they're invincible," says Kodner. "It heightens the danger." Mark Davis, a junior at Princeton, thought attending an Ivy League freed him from the safety problems of other campuses. But after observing many of his classmates suffer from the consequences of binge drinking and alcohol-related assault, he realized that Princeton wasn't exempt from crime. "Everyone thinks of Ivy League schools as totally academic; it's almost like we have to prove them wrong by partying," he says. "We go to the opposite ends."


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