Freshman year is many students’ first time living alone in a major city, presenting a unique set of challenges.
Staying safe in Chicago goes beyond walking with a group of friends after dark and keeping valuables out of sight. In the past, first-year and transfer orientation sessions included an optional 20–30 minute lecture that provided information about staying safe while navigating city life. This year, the college took a different approach.
Rather than restricting all safety education to an optional module, it was implemented throughout several programs all new students participate in, such as orientation, Welcome Week events and mandatory First-Year Experience “Big Chicago” courses. Sessions at the Office of Campus Safety & Security are also being held during New Student Commons to familiarize students with on-campus resources for staying safe.
Students who live off campus were given information about staying safe while commuting, while students who reside on campus were given information relative to staying safe in the dorms, according to Kari Sommers, associate dean of Student Life.
This new approach will continue to benefit students immensely. Instead of providing concentrated information in a brief and optional orientation session, presenting safety information through varying mediums—such as self-defense classes and real-life scenarios in “Big Chicago” courses—is much more likely to resonate with students after their first weeks on campus. Providing information in Big Chicago courses is especially beneficial because it is a smaller group and the safety education is integrated by orientation leaders and staff members. For example, when the course travels on the el, the leader provides tips about riding transit at night, such as boarding the first car to be closer to the conductor.
The expansive and integrated safety education is important for incoming students, but continuing students at the college might not be as educated about scenario-specific safety, as well as what to do in emergency situations.
A total of 37 on-campus crimes and 25 crimes on public property were reported in 2014 for Columbia, according to the college’s 2014–2015 Annual Crime & Fire Safety Report. Sex offenses and burglaries were the most common types of crimes reported on campus, while drug arrests and robberies were the most common offenses to occur on public property.
Certain crimes require specific precautions that can be taken in an effort to avoid being robbed or harmed. Campus Security sends email blasts after a crime occurs, but the emails often provide repetitive and generalized information. Providing more specific safety tips in the emails would be an effective way to reach all students with meaningful information. The college should seek opportunities to educate continuing students about the realities of living on an urban campus.