As you head back to college for the fall semester, safety might not top your list of priorities – but it should. College students need to be prepared to proactively defend themselves from crime and assault both on and off campus. And while both genders are at risk for certain threats, women need to be especially vigilant.

Taking September’s “National Preparedness Month” into consideration, here are a few personal safety rules to keep in mind as you make the move back to campus:

Assess the Situation on Campus

Before you jump headfirst into a new social scenario, like a party or date, take the time to assess what you’re comfortable doing and, more important, what you’re not. Setting boundaries ahead of time will eliminate the stress and pressure of having to decide on the spot what’s “okay.” This includes knowing your alcohol limits and how you respond to different types of alcohol. Along these same lines, never accept drinks, food or anything else from a stranger, especially if you didn’t see where it came from.

Bottom line: go with your gut. If you don’t feel good about a situation, stop what you’re doing and leave. There’s no need to explain or justify yourself to anyone. Find or call a friend if you’re by yourself. Not only will talking to someone you trust keep you calm, but it could also prevent strangers from taking advantage of you while you’re alone.

Buddy Up with the Pros

Colleges offer a variety of resources when it comes to personal safety. Start with a trip to your campus police’s station or security office. Learn the emergency numbers or program them into your phone, and find out if there are university-specific apps available that can help you in a crisis. While you’re talking to the safety pros, ask for tips on the safest places at school as well as areas to avoid on and off campus.

It never hurts to take an actual course in personal safety, including self-defense training. Aside from learning how to defend yourself physically during an attack, self-defense courses can teach you:

  • How to be aware of your surroundings
  • What to look for in terms of obvious and not-so-obvious threats
  • Whom to contact for specific emergencies, from theft to violence
  • How to use non-lethal weapons in an attack

Carrying non-lethal weapons, such as pepper spray or tasers, can deter criminals. But you need to know how to use them properly. Don’t wait to learn how to use a taser until you’re facing an attack. Ask for help from professionals ahead of time to bolster your chance of using any personal security items effectively.

Make Your Tech Even Smarter

You probably already use a smart device to track your schedule and scroll through social media. Put your technology to good use by installing safety apps that can connect you with the right entities. Some apps, for instance, will share your GPS location with friends or allow emergency workers to check your status in a crisis. Other smartphone apps can help you remotely control the locks on your doors, set up intruder alarms and notifications, and monitor your space when you’re out. If you’re unable to send an SOS yourself, one of these applications just might be a life saver. 

Do More Than Just “Stand By”

Keeping your campus and community safer is a group effort. Start by paying attention to the safety of others around you, recognizing when someone else needs help and acting accordingly. Don’t play a hero in life-threatening situations – such as those with lethal weapons involved – but do what you can to help. Stand up for those being threatened, call the police and lend your support as best you can. To cut down on crime, take an active role in preventing it and in creating a culture that respects the personal safety and rights of others.

All students deserve safe and healthy study spaces. If you’re headed back to campus this fall, take the necessary time to consider what you can do to help create a safer learning environment for yourself and your classmates, too. Any proactive steps you take are a move in the right direction.