BY RACHEL CHEESEMAN, FOUNDER OF STREET SMART SELF DEFENSE
As I begin to write this next blog article concerning safety for college students, I can’t help but notice the recent heartbreaking headline: “Body Believed to be Missing College Student Mollie Tibbetts Found”. Her photos show a vibrant young, ambitious college woman attending the University of Iowa, majoring in psychology. I also have a niece the same age as her who attends college and majors in psychology. Kids don’t go off to college to become the next victim that dominates headlines—quite the opposite.
While parents want the best for their college-age kids, I can honestly tell you as a self-defense instructor, that I often receive calls during the summer months from anxious parents who have “safety” on their minds. My job is to instill self-confidence, empowerment and common sense into their kids before they leave home, which in theory, will hopefully reduce the insecurity that parents feel after they let them go. Parents and college students alike woke up to this same headline today. And for some, may fuel a sense of fear, while others feel confused… “Why her?” “Could that be me?” “College life isn’t supposed to be this way.” “Will my daughter be safe?” Here are 6 helpful tips for being safer on campus:
1) Have the right mindset
First of all, I am a huge advocate for NOT living in fear! Fear is a useful tool to both warn you of and respect danger, but it can also feed a sense of “learned helplessness” if you constantly spin it with hypothetical questions and statements. When I see headlines like these, I will use the circumstances (as tragic as they are) to remind myself of the everyday safety measures I need to apply to keep me and my home safe. It’s important to remember that self-defense isn’t just a class you take, it’s a way of life.
2) Get familiar with your environment
Upon arrival, all college students should take inventory of the entrances and exits to and from their dorm room and apartment buildings. Do not leave side or rear entry doors propped open unattended, and if you see one that is, be sure to alert a Resident Manager and/or campus security right away. Double check the locks on your doors and windows. If anything isn’t functioning properly, let building maintenance know immediately. Also, if you’ve been away from your room and notice something doesn’t look right with the door/frame, lockset or windows, go to the nearest call box and contact your campus police department. Bottom line here: ALWAYS trust your gut instincts. An increasing number of campuses have begun installing these call box devices to increase safety awareness and expedite response time. And by all means, DO NOT enter the room until they arrive!
3) Walk tall
When I used to volunteer for court advocacy at our local domestic violence shelter, I would often share the sidewalks toward the courthouse with downtown college students. I was astounded at the number of students who walked the streets of downtown with their heads looking downward! I don’t care if you are on a public or private campus – DO NOT do this! Always walk to and from buildings with your head up, shoulders back and eyes focused forward. Save the texting for when you reach your destination. Being aware of your surroundings is the first line of self-protection. Don’t discount this important step.
4) Have a plan if you sense danger
I have taught self-defense classes for women on college campuses who have shared personal stories of being “followed” during their commute between classes. Although this is an unsettling feeling, my best advice is to get inside the nearest building and/or locate the nearest call box for a campus security escort. If a building or call box isn’t readily accessible, cross to the other side of the street or walkway to create additional distance. I’ve often been asked by prior students “When is it appropriate to run or engage?” Of course, this is a tough question because the answer is “It depends.” A rule I was given by someone I trained with that had a background in law enforcement went like this: If a suspect is further away than 2 car lengths, then your chances of outrunning them to a safe location are greater.
5) Be prepared to stand your ground
However, if a suspect is closer than 2 car lengths and shows signs of intent, then you are better off standing your ground. Turning to run in this range with an aggressive attacker will only activate the “predator prey” instinct—in other words, they will chase you until they have you. A suspect with intent can close the distance of 2 car lengths in less than 1.5 seconds. Personally, I’d rather see what’s coming at me than have my back turned. Ultimately, you are the only one who can make the right decision in such circumstances.
6) Make self-defense a way of life
Simply making self-defense a daily way of life will decrease anxiety and help you concentrate on having fun and making the Dean’s List!
Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years. She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. Rachel is also a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.