A city is arguably one of the best places to attend college. Most large metropolitan areas are home to an incredibly diverse population, a wealth of culture and entertainment and near-endless opportunities for networking and personal growth. Seems like a fantastic place to go to college, right? Well, yes, but like everything, big cities have their downsides. Cities have unsavory elements that might catch new urban dwellers off-guard, especially if they have never lived in a city before. Students should certainly enjoy the benefits of the city their school resides in, but they also need to be aware of potential dangers such an area can bring. So without further adieu, here are some safety tips to help you and your fellow freshmen stay safe this year.
1. Don't travel alone at night.
This may sound obvious, but it's quite easy to ignore this rule and rationalize going somewhere alone because it's not too far away. "It's only down the street so I can go alone." It doesn't matter if you're going down the street to the grocery store. It doesn't matter if you're walking between dorm buildings that are a quarter-mile from each other. It doesn't matter if you're still on-campus, unless your school's campus is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, in which case, you might not realize you're currently in prison.
If you're walking alone, especially at night, you're vulnerable. Nighttime is the perfect time for the not-so-nice denizens of the city to emerge, and they'd love for you to be walking alone on the sidewalk, headphones in and oblivious to the world around you as you mosey on down to the convenience store to grab yourself a bag of chips and an Arizona before returning to studying. Walking during the daytime is a different story, because people are awake and aware during the day, so you're far less alone, even when there is no one around you. Walking alone at night, however, is dangerous.
If it's 11 p.m., and you're making a trip from your dorm room to the grocery store and back again, ask someone to go with you. Not only will they keep you company, but the two of you will keep each other safe. If other friends want to go also, that's great! The more people traveling at night together, the better. If you're worried about annoying your classmates with requesting them to accompany you on your late-night snack runs, remember that this is a matter of personal safety. If someone who you respect came to you with a similar request and you had nothing better to do, wouldn't you help them out?
2. Listen to your gut.
This is my general rule of thumb for walking around off-campus in the city (which in my case is Boston): If something seems sketchy, it probably is. I've always trusted my gut, so to speak, and it usually works out fairly well for me. If something doesn't feel right, regardless of what it is, try remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.
For example, if you see a suspicious car parked on the street around your dorm building, and someone's been sitting inside it for an hour, something might not be quite right. Of course, it may be and probably is a harmless scenario, but it's inadvisable to take a risk. In these types of situations, giving the benefit of the doubt is simply not a safe chance to take. You should never ever do anything you don't feel comfortable doing, regardless of how others may judge you.
For instance, let's say that one night, a few of your friends plan to go to a restaurant in a part of the city you've never been to. Researching this area reveals it isn't too welcoming, with a shoddy appearance and relatively high crime rates. Despite how they may have wanted you to go, if you are suspicious of the activity, don't go. It's as simple as that. If you feel uncomfortable with going into this area, the best-case scenario is that you eat dinner while being nervous and on-edge the entire time. Doesn't sound like a fun experience, right? This example goes the other way also. This is not only for your safety, but for the safety of others as well. Your awareness could protect your classmates.
3. Secure your dorm.
In the case where your dormitory door must be manually locked, do NOT forget to lock it and also make sure your roommate does not forget to lock the door either. Whenever you leave the room, even if it's just to go to the bathroom or brush your teeth, lock the door. If it's unlocked, it doesn't really matter how long you're gone: your room is now the equivalent to that house on Halloween with a bowl of candy on the front porch with a "take one" sign messily glued nearby.
At Northeastern University, the dorms have automatic locks, meaning that whenever the door closes, it locks. This innovation, in theory, means the end of dormitory theft, but theory doesn't always translate to reality as it should. Despite the auto-locks literally ending any possibility of forgetting to lock your door, some people have chosen to live at the mercy of, to quote Seinfeld, "One design flaw: the door must be closed!" Literally the only way someone could steal your things if you have a door with automatic lock is if they walk in, because the door is open. Again, even if all you're doing is going to the bathroom and returning immediately after, that's enough time for someone to walk in, take whatever they want and walk out. Carrying your keys or student ID card everywhere may be a nuisance, but it's far preferable to being the victim of theft.
4. Let people know where you're going.
This one is pretty simple: as often as possible, tell people where you're going and how long you expect to be gone. It's as simple as that. This is crucial at night. If you give a trusted person this information whenever you go out anywhere, and if something happens, they know you were supposed to return. They know that if you don't return within a reasonable time, they need to contact you or contact campus/city police if you aren't responding.
If you're running late on the way to/from your destination, let your protector (so to speak) know so they aren't worrying about you. Even if you're doing something as seemingly normal as going to class, telling your roommate (assuming they are trustworthy), "Hey, I'm going to class. Be back in an hour," can safe-guard you against any trouble you may encounter to or from wherever you're going. It's just another way to protect yourself if anything should happen to go wrong on your commute from point A to point B, and one that can certainly come in handy while being a student in a big city.
5. Utilize campus resources.
What our good friend Will Smith seems to not realize, however, is that utilizing the safety resources provided by your school can be preferable to handling situations by yourself. For example, imagine it's 1 a.m. during finals week and you've been at the library for seven hours. You're about to fall asleep and you need to be up at 8 a.m. for your final. So how do you get back to your dorm? You could either say to yourself, "I'm going to handle this myself," and walk home — which isn't quite the smartest of ideas — or you can use the resources of your campus. Most college campuses, let alone city campuses use the "Blue Light" system, setting up emergency call boxes for quick campus police assistance. Not only that, but many colleges have their own police force, who can give you safe escorts to your dorm from anywhere on campus in a police vehicle. Therefore, you don't have to risk the dangers of walking around alone at night. Plus, you can also get to your dorm far quicker.
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