Student safety and security need to be a college wellness goal
Student wellness has become a top priority for most colleges. With the increase in mental health issues among college students, the rise in food and housing insecurities within the same population, and the impact the pandemic has had on the social development of K-12 students, this focus is warranted. Colleges have added programming focused on wellness, increased the number of healthy food options available on campus, in some cases hired a wellness director or other related staff, outsourced the operation of the campus health center to increase hours and service, and contracted with virtual counseling services, all to meet the growing needs of students. As I have identified in one of my previous blog posts a holistic approach to student wellness will achieve the greatest results. Given the recent increase across the country in crime near college campuses student safety and security must be added to the list of wellness goals adopted by colleges.
Recent examples of the increase in crime near college campuses
Continuing a trend that has been going on for some time, just in the past two weeks there have been several reports from across the country about an uptick in crime. Near College Park, Maryland, there has been a rise in the number of indecent exposure incidents. Not too far away at John Hopkins, there's been “a disturbing increase in serious violent crimes”. At Bates College in Maine, the school has recently needed to reassure students and staff that they are working with Lewiston police to address increased crime, and at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, there was an arrest of a man suspected of breaking into apartments across the street from campus. The University of California at Berkeley has also recently added security because of a spike in crime. Kim, a student there said in a recent news report, “At night it is a whole other thing," said Kim. "During the day, I don't mind it. The campus is beautiful and I love being here. But at night, it is like I have not walked around here alone once and I will not."
The pandemic effect
Interestingly many colleges increased security during the pandemic to reduce the high likelihood of exposure to COVID-19. Steps like closing campus gates, limiting guests, adding student security, and preventing deliveries directly to dormitories are all examples implemented at the time. But with the end of the pandemic, college campuses are once again open for business. There could be many reasons why there has been an increase in crime near college campuses. Is a return to the pre-pandemic normal the cause? It seems unlikely. Maybe the pandemic has led to more crime or possibly the often-reported increase in crime nationally has spilled over into areas near campuses.
Colleges do care
From my experience in higher education colleges do take the safety of students very seriously. Over the past decade-plus colleges have added blue light boxes which alert the police when a student is concerned for their safety, many have increased the training of their police or security departments, others have added or supplemented their security cameras, and most have implemented technology to notify the entire campus (or segments of) through text message when something is happening on an off campus that could impact students.
Feeling safe is one of our most important and basic human needs. College students who do not feel safe and cannot function properly will experience increased stress and will struggle to succeed. As colleges are developing their wellness goals, they need to make sure they include student security and safety as part of a comprehensive plan. This may be a real challenge because students want the freedom that they were promised as part of the college experience (certainly post-pandemic) and certain measures, like an increased police presence, may make them feel like they are being watched too closely. By including student input while developing a campus wellness plan and including enhanced measures of student security and safety in that plan the outcomes will be far more positive.