8 Ways to Contribute to Campus Safety, According to a Violence Prevention Specialist

As a violence prevention specialist, it’s my job to consider all of the ways that my campus can keep students safe.

While student affairs professionals can’t guarantee that a pro-social bystander will be available for every potentially dangerous situation, we can do more to ensure that our environments are as safe as possible.

By combining these environmental strategies with evidence-based prevention programming and survivor support, you’ll make your campus safer and more welcoming to all students.

8 Pro Tips

1. Add More Lighting

Keep your outdoor spaces well-lit. Not only will students and community members feel safer in bright outdoor spaces, but there is also evidence to support that such spaces are actually safer. 

Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. With better lighting, there is less opportunity to perpetrate violent crimes or theft. 

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Although the main areas of your campus might already be very well lit, consider where else students spend time. Is your sorority and fraternity row well-lit? Do students take a shortcut that could use better lighting? Has a parking garage stairwell light been out for ages?

To find out about these spaces, consider asking students where they would like more light. Or walk with a friend around campus to find such spaces. You might also consider consulting with campus police as they might also know where lighting could be better. 

Then, work with the appropriate city or campus partners to get more lighting in places that need it. 

2. Curate 24/7 Spaces

Students want spaces on campus where they can simply hang out. Anecdotally, I’ve found that when campuses don’t create events or spaces specifically for students to abstain from high-risk behavior, the students will create their own culture — which can lead to an unsupervised environment in which it’s easy to participate in high-risk behavior.

If you can, create spaces that are open 24/7 hours for students. Dining halls, coffee shops, and cozy lounges are all good options.  My undergraduate institution had a space called the Basement Brewhaus, which was open late for students to order coffee and bagels, play board games or pool, and sit on cozy couches. 

My current institution keeps the best campus dining hall open 24 hours a day so that students can hang out anytime while enjoying dessert or pizza.

Curating spaces like this gives students who don’t drink alcohol a comfy place to hang out. It also normalizes a non-drinking activity for all students to participate in on campus. 

The other benefit is that students who choose to drink have a chance to eat something beforehand, which can slow down the ill effects of alcohol use.  

3. Consider Seating

If you oversee furniture selection for residence halls or on-campus apartments, be sure to give students other seating options in their rooms besides beds. Unfortunately, when a visiting student’s only seating option is a friend’s bed, it may give the wrong impression to that friend.

Some students may find it uncomfortable to sit on someone’s bed, and this action could be misunderstood as consent. Including desk chairs, armchairs, or ottomans in all rooms will give students additional seating options, without making any students who happen to pick the bed feel at-risk of victim-blaming.

4. Increase Staffing

If your campus has high-risk events such as gamedays, consider hiring staff and faculty to staff them. They can hand out snacks or water and serve as extra sets of eyes for high-risk situations. They can intervene more reliably than other intoxicated students and help students who are acutely intoxicated or vulnerable to crime.

If your event has a big enough budget, consider paying staff or faculty to take on these roles. While it would be hard to convince me to give up a Saturday to join a crowd of undergraduates, I would quickly sign up if I was paid $50 for a shift. If you can’t afford to pay, consider recruiting staff or faculty volunteers. 

These extra eyes and hands might encourage students to drink less. To best serve students, consider hosting a mini bystander intervention training before the event. You can work with your prevention team, campus safety, and or local police to teach staff how to directly intervene, delegate to the police or medical staff when necessary, and document incidents. 

5. Train Desk Staff From A Safety Perspective

Train any students who serve as front desk staff from a safety perspective. Instead of just telling them to swipe IDs, explain why doing so is an important safety procedure.

Most I-Gen students staffing your front desks will already have an interest in safety and security as they came of age in the school lockdown era. For older students and staff, it may seem weird and scary to talk about safety so much but our students are used to it. So train from a safety perspective whenever you can.

6. Get Creative with Landscaping

You might not have heard of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) before, but it’s a strategy that aims to keep public spaces safer through design and landscaping.  The association’s website is a great resource on how clever design can keep spaces safer.

Bright, clear, and clean landscaping can make a huge difference in campus safety. People exploring campus should be able to easily identify entrances to buildings in the event that they need to access a safe and secure indoor space. 

When walkways are clear and easy to see to the end, people feel more secure in their surroundings. This can be accomplished through a clean and clever landscaping design. 

Check out how the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reimagined its landscaping to increase campus safety. If you are running a design or landscaping project, consider working with your prevention office on a safety strategy as you finalize plans.

7. Collaborate with Facilities Management 

Sometimes we unintentionally leave out important offices when working on campus safety. While campus safety, police, and violence prevention staff are probably no-brainers to you, consider how facilities management can also help you in your environmental safety assessment.

These folks have eyes all across campus and may have noticed safety risks that you have not seen in your day-to-day routine.

8. Solicit student opinions

You may have a different perspective on your campus than your students do. 

So, ask your students to tell you where they feel safe and unsafe. Give them a map of campus, including nearby spots off-campus that they frequent.  

Ask them to use green crayons to mark the spaces where they feel very safe on campus, yellow where they feel a little unsafe, and red where they feel unsafe or in danger. If students are color blind, they can write where they feel safe and unsafe instead of using colors. 

Collect the results from as many students as possible to ensure your results represent diverse groups. Use this data to inform your priority list for environmental shifts that will increase safety.

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Making some or all these shifts could mean a huge difference in the lives of your students. When we consider safety without thinking about the environments students move in (and how), we miss an important piece of the security puzzle.

What campus policies or changes have you made to increase safety? We’ll love to learn from your successes. Tweet us at @themoderncampus.

Kacie Otto

About the author: Kacie Otto (she/her) is the Violence Prevention Specialist and Victim Advocate at Marquette University. If she’s not knitting or reading a book about feminism, you might find her at a campsite or in a thrift shop. Learn how we can help get your students involved.