Improving student safety engagement is a challenge that continues to stump campus safety leaders. Getting college students, a population that’s notoriously bad at engaging with their own parents while at school, to interact with campus safety tools and safety officials is a tall order. While the issue of student safety engagement—or lack thereof— is certainly a tricky problem to solve, fostering an engaged student community can fundamentally change how campus safety operates on campus, transforming a department traditionally stuck performing reactive policing to one that’s able to take a proactive problem-solving approach to keeping students safe. Pursuing the following goals can build a bridge between students and campus safety, helping change the way campuses are protected for the better:
- Improve student situational awareness
- Redefine the role of campus safety officials within the campus community
- Align safety resources with student behaviors
Improve Student Situational Awareness
Keeping a campus community safe and healthy requires students to be aware of what’s happening around them. Students also need to know about the safety tools they have access to and how to use them. To make students aware of safety issues they often need to be educated about the larger community they’re living in, including crime statistics off and on campus. The point of sharing crime stats is not to create fear. It is to develop students’ understanding of the potential risks campus safety officers are there to protect them from—helping students understand the protective role of campus safety can help them see campus safety officers as the good guys instead of the party police, more on that later. Finally, don’t assume students know how to keep themselves safe. Teaching personal safety basics is a powerful way to raise baseline safety awareness on campus. With a better understanding of the safety risks present in their community, students may be more inclined to read safety notifications instead of blindly dismissing them.
With an understanding of safety risks on campus, students will have a better idea of what suspicious behavior looks like, which they can report to help campus safety get ahead of problems. Student reporting (read: student engagement) is what shifts the role of campus safety from reactive policing to proactive problem solving. In short, teach students about risks, teach them what to look for and teach them what to do if they see something. A critical topic to cover when teaching students about campus safety, and their role in it, is what happens when they report something. Specifically, what happens to them when they report something potentially not directly involving them. For example, a student witnesses an act of violence or harassment at a party where underage drinking is happening. If it is unclear what consequences that student may face for reporting what they saw, or what may happen to the other students at the party, they may be hesitant to report the problem for fear of getting in themselves or their peers in trouble.
To improve student safety engagement, it’s important to remove as many of these barriers to action as possible. Leveraging a mobile app that allows students to submit confidential and anonymous tips to campus safety is a way to reduce reporting hesitation. Apps that have two-way communication capabilities allow campus safety to speak directly with the student reporting an issue. The extra communication gives campus safety better information about the event and enables a fast, informed, response.
Redefine the Role of Campus Safety Within the Campus Community
Consider this perspective, if campus safety, or campus police, are people your students hope they never see, then it’s unlikely students will reach out proactively to report suspicious or criminal activity. Said differently, a student is not likely to share sensitive information with someone they have no relationship with or are fearful of – maybe assuming they are out to get them in the first place. Without an understanding of the larger role of campus safety officials, and the way students can interact with them, students may have a warped perspective of the role of campus safety as party police—there only to ruin a fun time.
To change this perspective, campus safety needs to be present as more than just party police. Making an effort to meet with students during their normal routine is an easy way to develop a different relationship with them. Host coffee with cops style events (students love FREE donuts and pizza) and encourage students to ask campus safety leadership and officers questions about their jobs, and perhaps more importantly, what they do outside of work. If campus safety officers are seen as normal people who are working to keep students safe vs. get students in trouble, students may be more likely to engage (even if it’s only anonymously).
Align Safety Resources with Student Behaviors
Higher education institutions have implemented many resources, including mass notification systems, emergency telephones or blue lights, mobile safety apps and security card access, to keep students safe on and off campus. However, sometimes the way these resources are introduced to students misses the mark.
Take, for example, a college that has invested in a mobile safety app with a virtual escort feature. This app is often pitched to students as something they can use when they leave the library late, after a long night of studying, and they want a guardian watching them to ensure they get home safe. While that is a great use case for a virtual escort, it’s one that may grab parents stronger than students. Tweaking the pitch slightly to describe the app as a dating safety app may not resonate the same way with parents, but for students, it could be a game changer to get more people using it. Meeting students where they are, in terms of how ‘they’ determine what they think is important, and speaking their language, is foundational to improving student safety engagement.
Gen-Z students, born between 1997 and 2012 and make up the majority of the undergraduate student body, primarily use their phones to communicate. Campus safety’s ability to meet these students where they are – on their phones – is a determining factor in how engaged the student community will be with campus safety. Communicating safety information to students through their phones, in an app interface that feels familiar, makes it that much easier for a student to report a safety event – or read a safety notification at all. Giving Gen-Z students a tool they already feel familiar with can make them feel like they’re on a level playing field with campus safety and it can give them the confidence boost they need to increase their safety involvement on campus.
Improving student safety engagement is a goal that’s best addressed from multiple angles. While it may take time, and a considerable amount of focused effort, the return on investment translates to a safer and happier campus community where students can thrive knowing they are protected. If you are ready to start, or double down, on your student safety engagement initiatives we want to hear from you. Let’s Talk!