Advice from an Expert at Staying Safe on Campus

ID-10078262By Jill Ravae Scherr, Student at Academy of Art University

College is a wonderful time in your life to celebrate your independence and enjoy your first taste of freedom. With those endeavors, though, comes a huge responsibility to protect yourself and your safety when being exposed to a new environment and complete strangers.

I had the privilege of speaking with the head of security at Penn State University Park Sgt. Frances McClellan to learn some of the best tips to keep you safe on campus, so the only thing keeping you up at night will be worrying about acing that literature exam!

Can you tell us a little bit about your position at PSU (what it entails and what made you enter this career)?
I have been with Penn State University police since 2000. I began as a student auxiliary officer while completing my degree. Once I achieved my B.S. in criminal justice, I applied for an open position at the Penn State Capital College where I was hired in 2003. I spent two years at that campus and then applied for an open position at the University Park Campus where I was hired in 2005. In 2009, I was promoted to patrol sergeant and was in charge of supervising a patrol shift of four officers. In the spring of 2012, I took on the position of community education officer where I now go out into the Penn State community to educate students, faculty, staff and members of the State College community on how to prevent becoming a victim of a crime. As most police officers, I entered this field to help people and to make a difference in the community.

What are some top tips young women on campus should know on how to protect themselves?
I would remind young women on campus to take an active role in their safety. Never walk alone, don’t take open drinks from anyone, lock their dorm room doors every time the exit their room and don’t let people piggyback (walk into the dorm after them after they swipe their ID).

How about off-campus functions (parties, spring break, dates etc.)?
I urge young women to again, never take an open drink from anyone. This is not only to prevent drugging but also, they don’t know the amount of alcohol someone has added to their drink. Large amounts of alcohol can incapacitate women to the degree they cannot protect themselves.

What is the most common mistake you have observed that college girls make that jeopardizes their safety on campus?
All college students, not just females, have a false sense of security and take unknowing risks that leave them open to victimization. Follow safety guidelines and ensure they have a safe and positive college experience.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of the job is knowing you have helped someone — whether it is as a victim of a crime or someone who just locked their keys in their vehicle.

What is the hardest/most challenging part of your job?
The hardest part of the job is trying to stress the importance of the safety tips we provide. The statement, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is not only true in the medical field.

Do you encourage young women on campus to take a self-defense course?
I encourage all women to take a self-defense course, RAD or SAFE. The self-confidence and awareness they attain from these courses are exceptional.

What is the biggest safety concern you see currently affecting PSU students?
I think the biggest safety concerns currently at Penn State are three fold. Piggybacking, not locking dorm room doors and drinking to the point of incapacitation.

Do you think all the technology available to students today is more helpful or harmful to protecting their safety? For example, they can use an iPhone to call for help, but posting too much personal information on Facebook can put them in a position to compromise their safety.
Technology is great, but sometimes I think it adds to that feeling of false security. It also opens people up for being victims for various crimes to include cyber stalking, identity theft and scams.

What is a security issue that you have found to be most passionate about during your time at PSU or is close to your heart that you would like to raise awareness about or you have personal experience with?
I’m passionate about all things around prevention and awareness. Clearly, the property crimes such as theft are very important, but belongings can be replaced. Preventing physical crime is so important because there are those physical and emotional aspects that can never be replaced.

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