Can I Be Safe on Campus?

Some suggestions on security in a post-Va Tech world

  • You’ve just finished a session with your biology study group in the library and you tell them to go ahead because you want to highlight some notes.  When closing time hits you gather your books and head for the exit but you notice there’s a creepy guy following you.  When you stop to adjust your bag he stops to look at a book. As you get to the door you realize you have to cross the entire campus alone…
  • You’re working on a paper on your laptop in the TV lounge of your dorm. One of your friends comes by and asks you to come check out his new video game.  “It’ll only take a minute.” he says.  So, you go, leaving all your stuff in the lounge.  Five minutes later when you get back to the lounge your laptop is gone…
  • You’re at a home football game with 75,000 other diehard fans when you feel your cell phone vibrate.  You put it to you ear and hold your hand over the other ear as you talk.  It’s your Mom wanting to know if you’re all right.  It seems someone has placed a bomb on a bench in front of the physics building and it has blown up…

Each of the stories above actually happened. While safety hasn’t always been at the top list of student concerns—grades, relationships, and money had enough worries to offer— college students have been made painfully aware of their own vulnerability. In the horrible days that followed the tragedy at Virginia Tech, I had a student come into my office and say, “I thought when I got to college, I wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore.

Keep it in Perspective

You’re no more in danger on campus than anywhere else today. In fact, because college campuses tend to be somewhat insular, you’re safer from violent crime on most campuses than off. There’s no point living in constant fear; pay attention to your surroundings, and go on with your life. Ten people who live courageously are more powerful than a hundred who live in fear.

Fr. Larry Rice, CSP,
Ohio State University

The key to managing these concerns is to be smart but not paranoid.  Although no one can be exempt from random acts of violence, you can be aware of your circumstances and of the people around you.


Keep tabs on what is yours—your bike, your computer, your backpack and your purse. If any of these are left unattended, they are free for the taking.  “I will only be gone a minute” mentality is what allows most thefts to happen. It only takes a minute to steal. Lock your room, your car, your bike EVERY time you leave it.

Personal safety

Be a good friend to your friends, and inclusive and welcoming to new friends.  They are fun when times are good, and a great solace (and distraction!) when times are rough. And specifically, make use of the wellness centers on your campus without shame. They are there to help.
Fr. Charlie Donahue, CSP
University of California, Berkeley

If you are studying late at night on campus and you’ll be walking home, always leave with people and have a walking partner home.  If you get a “creepy” feeling about someone, pay attention to it.  Even if you are wrong it is better to err on the side of safety.  If you feel someone is following you, let that person get ahead of you.  Don’t exit a building alone if you have that feeling.  Go find help, call Campus Security and explain the situation. Don’t take short cuts, down an alley or a secluded area.  Always have your cell phone available to call for help if you need it.

Random Acts of Violence

Unfortunately, school shootings, bomb threats and acts of terrorism are all a part of our lives now. Be vigilant without being a vigilante. If on a web site, My Page, in a conversation or shared writing assignment you find something disturbing, share it with a professor or staff member. In spite of the media’s perpetuation of the myth, very few people with mental illnesses are actually violent. Know the signs and know how to get help. Don’t be paranoid, just alert. 

We are living in a society of multiple risks, security is a concern, that’s part of the real world that we must learn to deal with.
Rev. Charles L. Currie, S.J.,
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities

I have to admit after 9/11, I was nervous when I first went on an airplane.  That first flight I was on, I watched everyone who got up and walked in the aisle but eventually I started to relax. I am more vigilant now but I keep flying.  The antidote to random violence is living life as normally as possible. 

College is meant to be a wonderful time of intellectual growth and self- discovery.   Let it be just that for you.  Remember to be smart, not just about your studies, but about your belongings, your safety and the safety of others.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

In most cases it is possible to identify young people with problems and help them get appropriate mental health care.  To date, most of the adolescents and young adults who have carried out violent attacks in school settings have had long histories of emotional and behavioral problems. However, what we have also learned is that many of these troubled youths were not receiving adequate care—and some were not receiving any mental health care—at the time of their violent acts.
Jerald Kay, M.D
Chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Corresponding Committee on Mental Health on College and University Campuses

Did you know that nearly half of all college students reported feeling so depressed that they couldn’t function during the last school year? The Half of Us website offers information on mental health and works to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness:

Understanding Mental Illness after the Virginia Tech Tragedy

The tragic shootings on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University have raised many questions regarding mental illness. SAMHSA offers the following materials so that we all can become better informed about this important topic.