Experts offer advice on college campus safety

With the school year rapidly coming to a close and kids heading off to college in the fall, many parents are looking toward their children’s future, which is why Greenwich High School held a college campus safety forum Monday night.

The event was facilitated by GHS health and wellness teacher Kathy Steiner and the featured speakers included GHS Student Resource Officer Carlos Franco; Jeffrey Barrett, manager of logistics and emergency planning at Sacred Heart University (SHU); Stephanie Trelli, crime prevention officer at SHU and Ivonne Zucco, executive director of the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education of Stamford.

After introducing himself and Ms. Trelli, Mr. Barrett assured attendees that university employees were not there to get applicants but rather to give a generic overview of how campus safety works and what to look out for.

For instance, he said, SHU has a public safety staff of 45, each of whom have gone through approximately 55 hours of academy training in order to deal with alcohol consumption, domestic violence, helping students facilitate their education and other relevant college issues. The amount of public safety training on other college campuses should be similar, he said, and it is important to know how many safety officers a campus has and how many of them work any given shift.

Getting into specifics, Ms. Trelli began her presentation with information and tips on campus access. At SHU, parts of the campus are open to the public during the day. However, she said, there is only one place to enter or exit the campus, which is guarded by a public safety officer at night, who verifies the identity of anyone wishing to enter SHU.

Additionally, the school has a perimeter fence surrounding the entire campus, which adds an extra layer of safety when it comes to outsiders gaining access to the university. In other schools, parents should be aware of how many campus access points there are and how well they are patrolled, she said.

When it comes to camera security, most campuses have the technology but it’s important to know where the cameras are and how many of them exist, Ms. Trelli said. At SHU, there are cameras inside and outside most buildings, but that may not be the case at other universities. Accordingly, Ms. Trelli advised parents to ask which campus parking lots are monitored, which parts of campus are the most monitored and whether or not there are ample public safety officers patrolling the grounds either on foot or by car.

Another major consideration when selecting a college is how the school deals with sexual assault or misconduct and what resources it has to prevent and reconcile such events, Ms. Trelli said. SHU has a handful of school organizations that deal with sexual assault, including one comprised of faculty, staff and students, and another comprised only of students. The groups promote preventive measures through education on healthy relationships and healthy living, and having such resources available to students is important, she said.

Crucial tips for avoiding sexual assault for college students, especially women, include always leaving a destination with the same people you arrived with — something Officer Franco also stressed several times to attendees — and knowing that an attack can happen anywhere at any time. Incidents don’t often take place in dark alleys at night, as many people believe, Ms. Trelli said, so students should always be alert.

Parents should be on the lookout for educational courses offered regarding sexual assault as well, Ms. Trelli said. SHU offers the R.A.D. program — rape, aggression, defense — which is a four-session course that provides tips and awareness education as well as self-defense lessons.

Additionally, parents and students should be aware of blue light call boxes placed on college campuses and how they work, Ms. Trelli said. Though there are a few different styles of these emergency systems, they all function in roughly the same way and are used to alert campus security to an emergency.

Essentially, Ms. Trelli said, there is an emergency button on each call box that a student may press to be directly connected to the school’s public safety dispatcher, who collects information about the individual’s circumstances and then dispatches officers to come to his or her aid. These boxes should be visible all around a college campus and their functions should be well understood by students, Ms. Trelli advised.

Ms. Trelli also alerted parents to the Circle of 6 application available for smartphones and tablets. With the touch of a button, the app allows an individual to alert six different friends to his or her whereabouts and any potentially dangerous situation — something many attendees took great interest in. For more information on the app, visit circleof6app.com.

Moving on to college crime statistics, Mr. Barrett discussed the importance of a school providing its students with an anonymous form of reporting to inform school authorities of an issue or incident around campus. At SHU, students are able to submit an electronic anonymous tip form that allows them to provide the location, incident type and any pertinent information regarding the situation without requiring the informant to identify him or herself, Mr. Barrett said. And he added that although it is always the hope that SHU students feel comfortable speaking and identifying themselves to faculty and staff in the event of a problem, it is vital that an anonymous option is also offered — something parents should ask about on campus tours, he said.

Parents should also be familiar with a university’s crime rate, which should be available on any school’s website via a Clery Act report. The Clery Act provides a three-year running crime log that identifies where an incident took place and what the nature of it was, Mr. Barrett said. If a specific statistic stands out, he added, parents should be sure to ask more questions to get a better understanding of it.

Another crucial element to consider in selecting a college is what the school has in place for a mass communications system. With weather crises and school shootings becoming more common in recent years, it’s important for students to have speedy access to emergency announcements, Mr. Barrett said. At SHU, students are automatically entered into a mass communications system during their freshman year that alerts them via e-mail, text and phone call to pertinent safety information.

The system is meant to be redundant, Mr. Barrett said, and information is additionally sent to students via social media, word of mouth and public address systems. This is a key element to be cognizant of on a college campus, he said.

Officer Franco, student resource officer at GHS for six years now, added his own campus safety tips throughout Mr. Barrett and Ms. Trelli’s presentations. He advised students, specifically women, to keep any beverage they are consuming with them at all times and never to put it down, no matter what kind of event they are attending. Similarly, he cautioned students about leaving friends behind.

No one should ever be walking alone, nor should a student ever leave a friend at a party, whether that person says it’s what they want or not, Officer Franco said. Additionally, it’s important to keep private information private, he said, adding that students should not tell their roommates personal information until they have known the person for some time. Finally, Officer Franco advised students to always be aware of what areas on campus are well lit, where security cameras are and where the nearest exit is.

To round out the forum, Ms. Zucco provided attendees with information and tips from the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education. When it comes to sexual assault, students should be aware that the majority of attackers are not strangers but rather someone they are fairly comfortable with, Ms. Zucco said. Additionally, it is crucial that victims do not blame themselves for an attack.

When drinking is involved, a victim often believes it is his or her fault that an incident occurred, but the fact is that no one has the right to touch you, no matter what you do, who you’re with or how you dress, she said. Unfortunately, she added, 65% of rapes go unreported on college campuses because victims blame themselves, so it is critical that students understand that they are not at fault for such an event.

 

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