A guide to safety resources at Penn State

September 17, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For many Penn State students, the start of the fall semester doesn’t just mark the start of classes. It’s also the first time that many are living on their own, and with that independence comes the need for personal responsibility for one’s safety and security.

“The safety of our students is of critical importance and we are committed to providing the safest possible on-campus environment. Students and other community members also have an important role to play in campus safety,” said Sgt. Monica Himes, the community education officer with University Police at University Park. “It’s important that we, both as a community and as individuals, take our personal safety and responsibilities seriously.”

As new and returning students adjust to life on campus, Himes shared basic safety tips. First and foremost, Himes said, is to try to maintain a level of situational awareness: Whether you’re walking between classes or out at night with friends, being aware of what’s going on around you is the first line of defense. Situational awareness can be as simple as looking both ways before crossing the street, or keeping track of where your phone and wallet are, but simple steps such as these can contribute to your safety and the safety of those around you. Other simple, practical tips from University Police include:

  • Know how to contact police should the need arise.

It’s better to know how to contact police and never need to, than the other way around. For immediate emergencies, students can always call 911. University Park students should program the number for University Police (814-863-1111) into their phones. Every Commonwealth Campus also has its own police and public safety office, and Commonwealth Campus students should check this list to find the number for their campus.

Additionally, there are emergency phones in many on-campus elevators and every campus has emergency phones in the form of poles with blue lights located around campus; make note of their location should you ever need to use one.

  • Always lock your door.

Theft on campus, Himes said, often stems from an unlocked and unattended residence hall. Himes reminded the community that security features, such as restricted access to residence halls, are in place, and encouraged students not to bypass those systems.

“Do not let strangers or unescorted guests into your residence hall or apartment building,” said Himes, “and if you see someone gain access who shouldn’t, never hesitate to make a report to police.”

Similarly, she said, always being sure your bicycle is properly locked and your personal items, like your phone, laptop and wallet, are not left unattended or unaccounted for are easy steps to reduce the likelihood of theft.

  • Guard your personal information.

Phishing scams and phone scams unfortunately are common, so be sure not to give out your personal information, including your Penn State ID number and your passwords. If you receive a strange email or phone call trying to get you to share personal information, Himes has a simple guideline: “If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.” She also noted that official law enforcement agencies will never contact you demanding money under the threat of arrest; this is a common scam that can take many different forms. If you’re unsure if something is legitimate, reach out to a trusted source or report the incident to University Police. You can report suspicious emails at phising@psu.edu, and can learn more about information security and what you can do to protect yourself online at https://security.psu.edu/phishing/.

  • Understand Run, Hide, Fight.

Run, Hide, Fight: Surviving an Active Attacker

Penn State has adopted the Run, Hide, Fight method to provide students, faculty, staff and visitors with the tools to think clearly and act quickly if faced with an active attacker. In addition to in-person training provided by University Police and Public Safety, WPSU and University Police have produced an online training video illustrating Run, Hide, Fight in action. 

WPSU/Penn State
 
  • If you ever want an escort for your walk home, call the Penn State Safe Walk service.

Every student has every right to feel safe walking around campus. If, for whatever reason, you ever feel unsafe walking by yourself, call the Safe Walk service at 814-865-WALK (9255) and a student auxiliary police officer will accompany you and walk you home. The Safe Walk program at University Park is a free service of University Police, and is available from dusk to dawn, 365 days a year.

The first steps to avoiding trouble with alcohol are to not drink while underage and to always use alcohol responsibly. However, if you’re ever in a situation where alcohol is involved and you’re concerned for the safety or well-being of a friend, you could avoid legal consequences for underage drinking if you call the police. “At that point, our first concern isn’t getting anyone into trouble, it’s saving someone’s life,” Himes said.

In addition to Pennsylvania’s Medical Amnesty law, Penn State also has a University policy in place called the “responsible action protocol,” meaning students who make a good-faith call to police to seek help or save someone’s life typically do not face disciplinary action from the University, and instead are required to attend an alcohol education program.

  • Understand the importance of consent and what constitutes sexual assault.

Sexual assault unfortunately does occur on college campuses across the nation, and a large percentage of these assaults happen in the first weeks of the semester as new students are adjusting to college life, said Jennifer Pencek of the Penn State Gender Equity Center. In most cases, the victim and the assailant know each other before the crime takes place, and a large percentage of the cases also involve alcohol. She also noted that victims can be of any gender identity.

“If a student chooses not to have sex during their time here, that is a valid decision, and if they choose to have sex, that’s equally valid,” Pencek said. “But in every sexual encounter, whoever is initiating absolutely needs to make sure it’s consensual.”

Consent is affirmative and ongoing, and requires the person to not be incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Consent can be either verbal or non-verbal, but must be clearly given, Pencek said. If you’re unsure if someone has given consent, then stop immediately; make sure you clearly receive and confirm the other party’s consent before initiating or continuing

Pencek explained that if a person is unconscious or incapacitated, they cannot consent. If a person says "yes" but later changes their mind, they are no longer giving consent. You can consent initially and then decide to stop; everyone has the right to change their mind and withdraw consent. If a person simply doesn’t say "no," this is not consent; not saying "no" doesn’t mean they’re saying "yes." If a person has to be pressured or convinced into giving consent, it is not truly consent; it is coercion. If a person does not give consent, such as in any of the previous examples, and another party continues with a sexual encounter, this is sexual assault, Pencek said.

If you are ever the victim of sexual assault, Penn State has resources available to support and empower survivors. The Gender Equity Center offers confidential counseling and advocacy, and can help survivors navigate the reporting and criminal justice process if they choose to do so. Counseling and Psychological Services also offers confidential counseling and therapy, including crisis intervention services. The Office of Student Care and Advocacy also advocates across campus on behalf of students facing challenges due to unforeseen or traumatic events.

“If you are ever the survivor of assault, however you are reacting is okay; you don’t have to take the same steps someone else might. No one knows how they’ll react to something like that until they’re there,” Pencek said. “I want you to know that you are absolutely not alone. You are the person with the power to determine what to do next and what actions to take, and we are here to support you.”

  • If you see something, say something.

“At the end of the day, we’re all Penn Staters, and it’s up to us to watch out for each other,” Himes said. She encouraged all students to get involved with Stand for State, which educates students about the important role of bystander intervention in creating a safe and caring community.

If you see a friend, or even a stranger, being harassed or put in an uncomfortable situation, remember the three D’s: Directly interact with the people involved and express your concerns; Distract them by diverting their attention to something else to covertly defuse the situation; and Delegate your responsibility to intervene by notifying someone else who is better equipped to handle the situation, such as law enforcement, if appropriate. If you ever feel unsafe, always delegate.

If you see something suspicious or concerning, don’t hesitate to call police to report it; police are more able to assess and respond to a potential incident the sooner it is reported. Contact police directly and avoid reporting incidents through social media channels, which are not monitored 24/7 and not intended for emergency communication.

  • Know what resources are available to you.

If a student is ever victimized or assaulted, there are many Penn State resources available and dedicated to supporting and empowering that student in their time of need. The Gender Equity Center and the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response support survivors of sexual assault; Counseling and Psychological Services offer mental health services and therapy; and the Office of Student Care and Advocacy works with students and partners across campus to help students impacted by traumatic or unexpected events. Students also can benefit from Student Legal Services, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Center for Spiritual & Ethical Development, and the LGBTQA student resource center, all of which offer a wide range of resources and programming.

 “There are a lot of priorities as a new student, but your No. 1 concern should be your safety and well-being,” Himes said. “Without it, you can’t meet any other goals. We’re here, along with the rest of the Penn State community, to support and help you.”

Last Updated September 18, 2018