Fall for college students usually means notebooks with no torn pages, textbook purchases that teach you to appreciate the value of a dollar, and planners waiting to be filled with assignments. There is a palpable sense of renewal and anticipation for what the year has in store. Freshman flock in packs, navigating their new territory, while upperclassmen hope they can slow down time, perhaps dreaming of becoming a super senior that never leaves. No matter where students are in their college experience, campus is a space where academics and social life intersect, a unique relationship in which both must be contemplated in relation to one another– especially when considering safety.
September is National Campus Safety Month, the perfect time of year to educate students about certain risks, preventative measures, and tactics that can be taken to decrease the chances of facing danger or assault. Fall can be a vulnerable time for many people, especially first year students who do not yet know their way around and have not made strong connections with the surrounding community. Many universities recognize this and have begun utilizing a variety of resources that when combined, significantly increase an individual’s protection.
It is crucial to consider the importance of collaboration and communication on multiple scales when thinking about campus safety. Many phone applications have been developed that have an array of features, some of which include: allowing friends to monitor one another, GPS tracking to locate users should they be in danger, and the option to contact the university or city police. Below is a screenshot of LiveSafe, the app that I, along with other James Madison University (JMU) students, faculty, and staff use.
As you can see, LiveSafe organizes potential threats into multiple categories which users can report incidences through. Another neat element about this app is that users can attach other forms of media to their reports from photos and video, to GPS-tagged information. This strengthens the dialogue between law enforcement and the community because additional information provided in reports allows for a better understanding of the situation at hand, causing quicker, more efficient responses from law enforcement.
An article that highlights JMU’s launch of the LiveSafe mobile app touches on the necessity of cross prevention– developing various layers of safety resources that seal loopholes to which the community may be vulnerable. It states that “While LiveSafe allows law enforcement to push information out to its users, the app’s communication capabilities will not replace the Madison Alert system already in place on campus. The Madison Alert system will continue to be the primary system by which the university communicates with students, faculty and staff during an emergency.” Many campuses have similar constructions regarding the Madison Alert system which sends updates (via text, email, phone recording etc.) to students, faculty and staff about potential dangers. Additionally, there is a Blue Light system that provides phones that directly connect to the campus police.
One of the reasons why safety at universities makes for such a challenging issue is that addressing it calls for dynamic cooperation between multiple groups of people; it requires symbiotic relationships that must function efficiently as one. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service elaborates, stating that “Efforts to maintain a safe campus are most successful when the community encourages campus staff, administration, students, parents, and community groups to collaborate—ultimately navigating the intricacies of privacy laws, preserving academic freedoms, and complying with civil rights laws while simultaneously ensuring a safe campus and workplace environment.” The blending of social, legal, and educational spheres must function in a way that makes safety easily achievable and resources readily accessible. Every community member has the right to be safe, and this feeling of security should stem from being knowledgeable about the amenities around them.
Fall is a vibrant time of year– both aesthetically as nature changes and with the rejuvenation brought by well-rested students from summer break. During a time of excitement and transition, it is easy to avoid thinking about unpleasant situations where one’s safety may be compromised. Choosing between convenience and mindful preparation before a late walk home from the library or a night out can be challenging. However, what is important to realize is that you have the choice. Mobile safety apps are often made for this specific demographic, tailoring to the generation’s preference for quick and accessible resources. If you can draft a tweet or Instagram a picture of your cute dog from home that you miss dearly, you will undeniably master the art of navigating tools like LiveSafe. As National Campus Safety Month comes to a close, remember that no matter if you are on a college campus, corporate campus, or beyond, safety should be a principle priority and it is often just a matter of knowing how to access the proper resources that make a tremendous difference.
James Madison University Student and AWP Volunteer