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College students should study safety smarts

| Monday, Aug. 9, 2010

JoDi Holmes, a recent graduate of Springdale High School, is taking her street smarts with her when she leaves for Xavier University in Cincinnati next week.

Holmes, 18, of Springdale, attended a pre-orientation at the school, where she learned a lot about how to be safe in her dorm room and at parties. She plans to take a friend with her when she goes out, and to be tough when dealing with potentially dangerous situations.

"I think it can be scary but ... if anyone would try to mess with me, I don't think they would try it again," Holmes says. "I think I can kind of hold my own."

Mary Holmes, JoDi Holmes' mother, says she has spoken to her daughter during the past few years about alcohol use, and feels confident about her safety when she gets to college. "She's a strong person to begin with, and has always showed that she can take care of herself," says Holmes, 49.

Common sense, and a heightened awareness and sense of self-protection, should guide incoming college students who want to be safe on campus, officials say. A college campus might be a mostly safe and insulated place, but students shouldn't fall into a false sense of security. They are no longer under the protection of their parents' house, and will be exposed to a lot of different kinds of potentially unsafe people and situations, officials say.

"One of the main things I tell them is let them know that they are no longer in their home community," says Ron Bennett. He is the community relations officer for the University of Pittsburgh Police Department, which is the third-largest police unit in Allegheny County.

"They felt secure at home, and now they're being surrounded by an urban environment," Bennett says. "They need to remember the fact that everyone's there -- not just students ... and pay attention to where they're at and their surroundings."

Students might be surrounded by many other students in their dormitories and feel secure in their homes, he says. But "once they get too relaxed, they may start to let their guard own a bit."

It might be tempting for students to walk down the hall in a dorm without locking their rooms, but this is often when someone will steal their stuff, Bennett says. Likewise, students who leave their purses and books on a table at the library while they browse a book aisle can find their things gone when they return. Theft is the most common issue for the campus police, he says.

Common sense and self-protection also is much needed in potentially dangerous situations, like those involving alcohol, which can lead tragedies like sexual assaults and alcohol poisoning, Bennett says.

"The most important thing is for them to pay attention to where they are, and realizing that they are in an open environment," Bennett says. "Things do occur there, and they have to put that common sense that they were taught into the picture. Most students have nothing occur, but when they start becoming careless, things could possibly start to occur.

"Trust your instincts," he adds. "If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't."

Many universities, including Pitt and Seton Hill University in Greensburg, offer summer orientations for incoming freshmen. The orientations teach students, among other things, about safety and security.

Charmaine Strong, dean of students at Seton Hill, recommends that parents have conversations with their kids about safety before they leave for college, and while they are there. In particular, parents should talk about the dangers of underage and excessive drinking, she says. The Seton Hill University Police Department deals mostly with incidents involving underage drinking and theft, Strong says. Drinking is not allowed on campus.

"Safety and security for our students is the No. 1 concern," Strong says.

She says that students should not prop open the dorms' outer doors, so that unauthorized people can't come in. Strong also discourages students from leaving their dorm rooms unlocked, even if it's just to go to the bathroom, and to walk at night in twos. Roommates should check in with each other about where they are, and when or whether they are coming home. Students 21 and older who attend off-campus parties should drink responsibly, go with friends, and not leave their drinks unattended. Female students who have been drinking shouldn't be alone with a man in his room, Strong says.

"Use good judgment," she says. In college, "there is a lot of freedom, but also a lot of responsibility," she says.

Defend against campus crimes

• Back-up the backpack with a lock.

• Engrave valuables with first initial and last name -- it's easier to identify and reclaim, and harder for thieves to pawn.

• Keep personal information private. Limit information posted on valuables, front door, mailbox and key chain.

• Insure your student's valuables. Your homeowner's insurance policy might cover this.

• When leaving your dorm or apartment, make sure all doors and windows are locked.

• Keep an eye out for anyone who is loitering or hanging around your home, campus or car.

• Don't carry large sums of money.

• If possible, walk with another person, especially after dark. If you feel someone is following you, go to the nearest building and ask for assistance.

• At night, travel on well-lighted and well-traveled streets.

• If permitted, carry pepper spray or a stun gun to give you an advantage over an attacker.

Source: and Master Lock

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