Staying safe at Penn State: A guide for new and returning students

February 15, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The start of a new semester at Penn State marks more than just the start of classes. For many students, the new semester also marks their first time living on their own — and with that independence also comes the need for personal responsibility for one’s own safety and security.

Officer Michelle Beckenbaugh, community policing coordinator with Penn State University Police and Public Safety, said that everyone — from individual community members to offices like University Police — plays an important role in creating a safe and welcoming campus.

“Our top priority is student safety, and we are always committed to providing the safest possible campus environment,” Beckenbaugh said. “It is the responsibility of everyone, both at the individual and community level, to take an active role in looking after their personal safety and contributing to the overall health and safety of our community.”

The first step to upholding your own health and safety is to always be aware of your environment, Beckenbaugh said. Whether it’s making sure to look both ways before you cross the street, keeping track of your valuables like your phone and wallet, or making sure you’re aware of what’s going on around you while you’re out and about, being situationally aware is always a first line of defense.

Here are some other practical tips for staying safe during your time at Penn State:

Follow public health and safety guidance related to COVID-19

To help promote your personal health and safety, as well for those around you, Penn State is requiring all members of the campus community — including students, faculty, staff and visitors — to follow a few, simple actions. These easy steps include:

  • wearing a face mask at all times in campus buildings, and outdoors when you can’t be physically distant from others;

  • practicing physical distancing;

During the first two weeks of in-person learning (Feb. 15 to Feb. 26), the University will conduct universal COVID-19 testing of all students who are taking in-person classes or who are taking a fully remote or online course load while living in Centre County or within a 20-mile radius of a Penn State campus outside of University Park. 

Students should be on the lookout for an email sent to their Penn State email address to register for a time to get tested. At University Park, the tests will be administered seven days a week in Room 126 of the White Building. Testing site details at other Penn State campuses will be communicated directly to students. 

Students who test positive will be referred to isolation and the University’s contact tracing process will be initiated. Penn State has implemented thorough testing, surveillance and contact tracing programs as part of its efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at its campuses and neighboring local communities.

Students are expected to review campus and local municipality policies and procedures, and to abide by the clearly outlined expectations and responsibilities of members of the campus community in the University's COVID-19 Compact.  

To continue mitigating the spread of the virus, every individual in the campus community is reminded to "Mask Up or Pack Up," and is required to continue these effective personal actions.

Know how to contact police

For immediate or life-threatening emergencies, students can and always should call 911.

Students at University Park should program the number for University Police (814-863-1111) into their phones, and be aware of how to find the University Park police station at 30 Eisenhower Parking Deck.

Each Commonwealth Campus also has its own police station. Commonwealth Campus students should consult this list to find the phone number and station address for their campus.

Students can also report a suspected crime to University Police using this online form, which applies to every campus and allows students to remain anonymous if they so choose.

Additionally, many on-campus elevators have emergency phones, and every campus has emergency phones in public, outdoor spaces, in the form of poles topped with blue lights. Students can use the “health and safety” filters on map.psu.edu to note the location of emergency phones for each campus.

Always lock your door

The majority of thefts that occur on campus stem from a residence hall being left unlocked and unattended, Beckenbaugh said. Whether you live on or off campus, always be sure to lock your door to help safeguard against theft.

Similarly, making sure your bicycle is properly locked and registered, and that personal items such as phones, laptops, wallets or purses are not left unaccounted for, can help greatly reduce the likelihood of theft.

Beckenbaugh also noted that residence halls are equipped with safety systems to restrict access to residents only, and encouraged students not to bypass those systems.

“Residence halls and apartment buildings are private residences, and you should not let strangers or unescorted guests into those buildings,” she said. “And, of course, if you see someone gain access who shouldn’t, don’t hesitate to report it to police.”

Safeguard 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, even seemingly from someone you know and trust, it may very well be a phishing attempt.

“If something doesn’t seem right,” Beckenbaugh said, “then it probably isn’t right.”

She also noted that official law enforcement agencies, including University and local police, 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 to phishing@psu.edu. To learn more about information security and what you can do to protect yourself online, visit https://security.psu.edu/phishing/. If you believe you are a victim of such a scam, you should report it to police by calling 911 or using the online reporting form

Understand 'Run, Hide, Fight'

Penn State has adopted an Active Attacker Response Program as part of the University’s ongoing commitment to the safety of those who are on University campuses to learn, live, work and visit.

Based upon the “Run, Hide, Fight” model developed by the City of Houston, Penn State’s Active Attacker Response offers the same three action steps if confronted with an active assailant, making it easy to remember and act upon in an emergency: run if you can, hide if you can’t, and fight as a last resort.

University Police and Public Safety has additional details on the “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol, including a step-by-step guide and training video, available at this page.

Call the Penn State Safe Walk service if walking home alone

Every Penn Stater 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 officer will accompany you to your on-campus destination. The Safe Walk program at University Park is a free service of University Police, and is available to students and employees from dusk to dawn, 365 days a year.

Additionally, map.psu.edu lists which paths on the University Park campus are lit at night, under the “health and safety” filter.

Understand the concept of ‘medical amnesty’

The first steps to avoid trouble with alcohol are not drinking while underage and, for those of legal age, to always use alcohol responsibly.

However, Penn State policy and Pennsylvania law both protect underage individuals who make a report out of concern for the safety and well-being of a friend.

Under Pennsylvania’s Medical Amnesty Law and Penn State’s “responsible action protocol,” if someone calls the authorities out of concern for another person suffering from an alcohol or drug overdose, both the caller and the person in need of medical care are shielded from legal or disciplinary repercussions if the caller reasonably believes they are the first to call, provides their name, and stays with the person in need of medical attention until the authorities arrive.

Beckenbaugh said that a student who calls authorities, and the person in need of attention, would not be in trouble, but instead would receive support and educational resources to learn from the incident and make better personal choices moving forward.

“In a situation where someone may be suffering from alcohol poisoning or an overdose, our first priority is always saving that person’s life — not getting anyone into trouble,” Beckenbaugh said.

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, according to Becca Geiger 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. Geiger noted that victims can be of any gender identity, and explained that just because someone does not look like who you would picture a victim survivor to be or look like does not mean they did not experience violence.

“We have all heard this notion the sexual violence does not discriminate,” Geiger said. “While it is true anyone can experience violence and anyone can commit an act of violence, it is inaccurate to say violence does not discriminate. Such violence is influenced by the structures and power systems in society and its impacts follow those power differentials with marginalized communities, BIPOC and LGBTQ students experiencing violence at higher rates.” 

Geiger emphasized the key to determining what is sex and what sexual violence is consent. Consent is affirmative and ongoing, and requires the person to not be incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Consent can be either verbal or nonverbal, but must be clearly given, Geiger 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 a sexual encounter.

Geiger 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.

“We change our minds all the time, from what are we going to wear to what we are going to have for dinner — it is the same with sexual activity. We can change our minds and we are allowed to do so,” said Geiger. 

If a person simply doesn’t say "no," this is not consent — the absence of "no" is not the same thing as saying "yes." Geiger emphasized silence is your indicator to check in with your partner. If a person is pressured into giving consent, it is not truly consent; it is coercion. Geiger highlighted when we think of force and sexual violence, people automatically picture physical force and violence. She explained, however, that in the majority of assaults, we know that verbal and psychological force, threats and manipulation are more commonly used than physical violence. 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, Geiger 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 Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response, while not a confidential resource like the previous two and subject to Title IX reporting requirements, offers ways to report sexual misconduct, resources for victims, and information for how to support survivors of sexual assault. Survivors can also report the crime of sexual assault to University Police and Public Safety.

“If you are ever the survivor of assault, however you are reacting is OK; 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,” Geiger 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.”

Report hazing

Hazing is illegal and against University policy. Student safety is a top priority at Penn State, and the University will investigate every allegation of hazing to the fullest extent possible. Any individual or organization found responsible for hazing is subject to University discipline that may include expulsion from Penn State or termination of University employment.

To report instances of hazing by an individual or within any University-affiliated or recognized organization or group, contact the Office of Ethics and Compliance, the Office of Student Conduct, or the Penn State Hotline, or submit a report through an anonymous online form. In an emergency, call 911 or contact University Police.

Watch out for each other

“What it really comes down to, at the end of the day, is that we are all Penn Staters — and it’s up to each of us to watch out for each other,” Beckenbaugh said. “So, if you see something that seems out of place or that is suspicious or concerning, say something.”

She encourages all Penn Staters to, if they 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 in a better position 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.

You can also make reports to the Penn State Behavioral Threat Management Team, which investigates reports of individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others. For more information, including indicators of potential concern, visit btmt.psu.edu.

Know what resources are available to you

If a student is ever victimized or assaulted, there are many Penn State resources available to support and empower that student.

The Office of Student Conduct supports students and investigates reports of misconduct; the Gender Equity Center and the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response support survivors of sexual assault; Counseling and Psychological Services offers mental health services and therapy; and the Office of Student Care and Advocacy works with partners across campus to help students impacted by traumatic or unexpected events. Penn State University Police and Public Safety also has a dedicated victim resource officer and offers a number of resources for victims.

Students also can benefit from Student Legal Services, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Center for Spiritual & Ethical Development, and the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, all of which offer a wide range of resources and programming.

“Being a student is an exciting and important time in your life, often with many different priorities to juggle,” Beckenbaugh said. “But your first priority should always be your safety and well-being. Staying safe and healthy is the foundation that allows you to achieve all of your other goals, and the entire Penn State community is here to help and support you.”

 

Last Updated February 17, 2021