Toads, Lightning, and Toenails: Campus Safety 101

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Guess what? It’s September, and you know what that means. School’s starting, and a whole new crop of freshman have just moved into their brand new (to them!) college campuses, including yours truly. Whether you’re going to school outside of your home state, in a different city, or even just a few miles away from your parents’ house, you, my friend, will need some campus safety advice.

Now, this list is an agglomeration of tips that I pulled together from numerous safety advice websites, so I can guarantee you that there is a lot of information out there if you want to learn more.

1. Learn. Your. Campus. And Where To Go For Help.

Now, I have the good fortune of attending a small school in extremely rural Ohio, which means that my campus is very safe and very limited. But lots of people in this country are at places like OSU and UChicago and UC Berkley, and those campuses are pretty freakin’ enormous. If you’re in a big place, it’s essential for you to start familiarizing yourself with your campus right away. Do this even if you’re at a small school like mine, even though it’ll probably take a lot less time.

Grab a map of campus and start walking. You’ll learn the lay of the land more quickly if you look at it with your own eyes instead of through the eyes of Google Maps, and you’ll learn certain nuances — like which roads look pretty sketchy after 7 p.m., which paths are the most lighted, and which coffee places you can duck into for shelter if it suddenly starts pouring.

Most campuses in the US have emergency call boxes dotted all around the paths and buildings, including the dorms. Learn where those are, and learn where the Campus Security Office is (and maybe go in and say hi!). Have the number for Campus Security already in your phone and on speed-dial; often, they can help you a lot more quickly than 911 can.

2. The Buddy System Isn’t Just for Peeing

That’s right. If you’re going or leaving somewhere at night, always try to walk with at least one other person, especially if your campus is large and public. Not only does this increase your safety, but it’s more fun to walk with someone instead of walking alone. You can freak out about the random lightning and/or toads together, like I did the other night with my friend Eryn. Plus, if you’ve been to a party and are… shall we say, slightly inebriated, never let yourself be alone. Being alone at a party and walking home alone after a party are never good ideas. Never. If all of your friends end up leaving the party, you should leave, too. Even if it’s going to put a damper on your night, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

If you walk home with a trusted buddy, they can make sure that you get back to your own dorm and fall asleep in your own bed. Plus, if you’re walking home with someone else and you go to a college where snow happens, they can make sure that you don’t fall face-down in the snow and pass out — which is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to college students during the winter.

3. Pop It, Lock It, Polka-Dot It

Regardless of the size of your college, make sure that all of your possessions will always be secure. Lock your dorm room door even if you’re just stepping outside, lock your bike, get a little lock-box to keep your important papers and documents in, and, if you don’t have one already, put a passcode on your phone. Always keep track of your laptop, too.

4. This Is My Private Square

Know your limits, people. As we all know, college is looked on as a time of experimentation, but experiment in small doses. Levels of alcohol and drug tolerance are different for every single person. Just because your friend from Russia can down four shots of vodka in a row and not even show it doesn’t mean that it’ll work the same way for you. Actually, while I’m on the topic of shots, let me just point out that it can take up to ten minutes for you to feel the effects of a single shot of alcohol. Ten. Minutes. You don’t have to drink a ton of alcohol all at once to get a buzz. In fact, that’s probably the quickest way to get alcohol poisoning. Always stagger alcohol over an extended period of time, and drink on a full stomach. I promise you that it will make your whole experience a whole lot better. Also, never leave your drink unattended at a party, and never accept a drink if you don’t know what’s in it.

For all the sexually-interested people out there, get to know the other limits of your body as well. Figure out what you’re comfortable with, what you like, what you don’t like, whether you want a casual hookup or something more serious. Knowing yourself is the easiest way to protect yourself. There’s never an excuse not to use at least one form of birth control. Two is even better. Not sure how you’d wangle three. But always use protection (as corny as it sounds), be honest, and always ask your partner if it’s okay to do what you want to do. Consent is a beautiful thing, people, and in no way does it ruin the mood. A verbal “yes” is always best, and a single “no” negates every previous “yes.” And, if you see something going down, intervene — speak up. You can do this in a very casual way, and like I said before, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

But… in case something does go wrong, know your resources. Many colleges now have ways for people to disclose occurrences of sexual abuse or misconduct, and they will have resources for recovery and help at your disposal. Failing everything else, call Campus Security to report the assault. They’ll help you from there. Remember: Asking for help doesn’t mean that you failed or that you’re somehow less, it just means that you’re not alone and that people want to make sure you’re okay. (And yes, I may have pawned the original version of that line from a movie; don’t judge me.)

5. Heads Up, Seven-Up

I feel like this message is especially important with the new iPhone coming out this month. Don’t lose yourself in your phones or gadgets while you’re going places or while you’re in a group of friends. Not only is it dangerous for your attention to be occupied while you’re crossing a street or walking at night or for you to use the “check-in” feature everywhere you go, but, in my opinion, it just isn’t cool to be standing in a group of people with your face in Instagram or Snapchat. The point of college, other than learning, is engaging. Why pay some ridiculous amount in tuition every year if you don’t bother to make it worth something?

6. Trust Falls, People

Don’t show all your cards at once, and be restrained about how much you put on social media. Let people come to you, and don’t let your guard down until you’re absolutely sure you can trust someone. And, when you’ve gotten those BFFLS you always wanted, have their backs. Keep them safe, keep an eye on them at parties, make sure they get the help they need. If something seems off or they seem a lot more inebriated than they’re supposed to be, get them to a safe place and call for help so you can make sure nothing bad happens to them. Wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you?

7. “I Luv Da Moolah” — Hamlet, probably

Always have some emergency cash in your wallet in case you’re ever in a situation where you can’t use a card or where your cards won’t work. (Yes, there are still places in the world where you can’t use a debit or credit card.) You don’t want to be stuck in a bad situation because you don’t have the ability to get yourself out of it with a little cash.

This is going to sound super grown-up for a moment, but going to college is a great excuse and time to start managing your own finances and establishing credit. Note: This does not mean to sign up for a credit card through your school’s credit union (yes, some of the bigger schools do this), which is never a good idea. Do some research, pick the bank you like best (preferably with a branch near your school), walk in, and talk to a banker about opening up a checking account. Then, ask them about opening up a savings account. Then, ask them about credit cards. However, if you’ve gone to college with some help from the government or from your college in the way of student loans, you don’t have to worry about the credit card part since your acceptance of a loan is your way of establishing credit. Try to only use your credit card when you know for sure that you can pay it back right away; otherwise, things are going to get scary.

Budget, budget, budget. Once you’re settled in, draw up a table for all of your expenses. Figure out which expenses are fixed — things like bills and Netflix memberships, which occur every month — and which expenses are variable — clothing, food, costs that change every month — and how much you’ll need to cover both. Manage your income and allow yourself a certain amount of money for every week, and then put aside the money you don’t spend into your savings account. You will thank yourself for doing that in a couple of years, or maybe even sooner than that.

Take responsibility for your own costs as much as possible. You’re more-than-officially an adult. It’s time to start paying your dues. Try not to rely on family members for money; get a job, try paying for your cell phone bill by yourself, pay for Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, all that fun stuff. I guarantee you that your parents will not be thrilled about having to pay for your subscriptions by the time you graduate from college.

8. Check Yo’self Before You Wreck Yo’self

I included this point solely because I’ve only been at college for about two weeks, and I’ve already managed to run into several trees, trip off the edge of a path, run into an ottoman, almost step on a toad, and get an infected ingrown toenail (which is about as tasty as it sounds). Always watch where you’re going, and take care of yourself. Don’t go crazy on the dining hall soft-serve because no one wants the freshman fifteen. Eat at least two green things a day, do your homework, and always get enough sleep. Most importantly, always watch where you’re going because you never know when there might be a toad on the path.

A hippie-stuck-in-the-21st-century with an unhealthy addiction to pomegranates, Emily Ward spends the better part of her time spewing out short stories and soon-to-be-novels instead of doing her homework. She contributes a variety of things to Germ and is always more than willing to talk about the underlying themes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Wonder Boys.  You can reach her at emily@germmagazine.com or on her tumblr.

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