It is clearer than ever that sending your kids off to college, always an arduous process, has become even more complex with the rise of on and off campus violence. Nationwide, 17 percent of college students indicated they had experienced some form of violence or harassment. These violent acts include harassment, stalking, vandalism, physical assault, sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence, including suicide. Violence is not just a university problem; it is a problem in the youth culture at large. Eliminating on campus violence is unrealistic; however, some schools seem to be working harder than others at keeping their students safe.
In this story, we will provide you with a road map and questions that are frequently overlooked in the college decision-making process.
College dorm life will be the most challenging transition your child faces their freshman year and having a strong Office of Residential Life can make all the difference in how your kid acclimates to his/her new found emancipation. Access to information about residential life services can come from two sources: the school and alumni. Our recommendation is to sample both. Some of the critical questions you must ask are: how accessible are they and what is their grievance process, how timely are problems managed, and what immediate housing contingencies are available to students that need immediate relief?
Since your child’s first line of defense in dorm life is the residential/live-in counselors, also known as RA’s, it is equally important to understand how the school selects their RA’s, how they are vetted, the ratio to students and their accessibility. Additionally, each school should have a training mandate that address basic first aid/CPR and understanding how to identify symptoms of depression, harassment and eating disorders.
Health Care Services
Security and safety frequently overlap with emergency healthcare. It is very important you identify how your college manages its student health clinic and whether it offers 24-hour urgent care. Also important is what the college’s health insurance covers and whether pre-existing conditions are included in the coverage.
This is important to know if you’re planning on taking your son or daughter off your own insurance.
During the college years, students often run into big issues and some small issues that, left unaddressed, may become big issues with which to cope. As you let go of your child’s hand, find out who will be there when you’re far away. What kind of psychological counseling or support groups are available? What resources are available for students dealing with stress or emotionally difficult situations?
Security & Safety
Campus life can be risky, but it is a lot less risky than an unprotected neighborhood. It’s important to know how campus safety is staffed and by whom. Some colleges maintain a dedicated security workforce, while others outsource their campus security. If services are outsourced, it is important to know that the company selected was based on performance. The past performance of third party providers should be readily available. A security company serving a college environment should be well established and experienced. I recommend checking their website and client roster.
A security-conscious university begins with its chief executive officer. Because of tragic events over the last several years, safety and security has become a primary management function on the American campus. It is important to find out if he or she participates, even occasionally, in any type of campus safety workshops or programs. A smart CEO establishes a visible relationship with the chief law enforcement officer for the town or city where the school is located and also with the director of safety and security for the school. Find out from alumni if the CEO meets with the campus community occasionally to discuss their safety and security, or like many schools, meets reactively only after a serious incident is reported.
It is important to understand how the college or university recognizes and acknowledges crimes that occurs on or near the campus. Does it report its crime statistics to the US Department of Education and/or the Federal Bureau of Investigation? Does the college publish an annual report showing the extent of crime on campus and in surrounding areas? Is this report made readily available to prospective and current students? How does the data for this campus compare with other similar institutions? Does the institution care about the safety and security of students residing off campus? How is that concern demonstrated? Are there active crime prevention and/or personal safety programs on campus? If an institution is very secretive about its crime data, something is seriously wrong.
The Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 requires all colleges and universities to produce an annual report of their campus safety, security and fire procedures, as well as statistics relating to criminal offenses reported to the police. Request a copy and read it. Additionally, sites like bestcolleges.com usually rank some of the best college security programs, which can be found here.
As stated earlier, some colleges take school safety more seriously than others. Students sometimes have evening classes or study sessions. Make sure that the college or university offers some way for students to get home safely after a long night out. If they don’t, it could be a sign that the school doesn’t take the necessary measures to ensure students’ safety and welfare.
Because security and safety technologies and trends change very quickly, it is important to know whether campus safety and security efforts are keeping pace with the times or are inadequate and dated. Current standards suggest that institutions should hire a professional consultant or team every five years to review all hazards, risks and threats that may affect the institution, employees, students and visitors. Without such an assessment, the protective effort may be ineffective and inefficient.
The best laid plans are only as good as the institution that tests and exercises those protocols to evaluate their effectiveness. Some of the questions on your checklist should be: Who is in charge of the emergency planning on campus? Is it done by trained professionals and does it involve any outside agencies? Are the plans tested and how frequently? Is this campus “networked” with local first responders? Does this institution have a budget for emergency planning? Does it have an emergency communication system that can reach students and employees during a crisis? If most of the answers to these questions are “no”, you may want to look elsewhere for a safer environment.