Originally published in Hindustan Times Education Supplement.
Recent news about the tragic mass killing at The University of California at Santa Barbara unsettled those with an eye on higher education abroad. As an alumna of this notoriously scenic university, with its freewheeling, peace-loving ethos I have been especially rattled. We are all asking, how a young student, who is at one moment exploring new ideas and environments, making friends and living it up in the prime of his or her life, can suddenly be shot down in cold blood by a deranged, bitter maniac? There has of course been much said about the state of gun control and mental healthcare in the US since the incident. And of course there is a great need to address both of these serious issues, but on the minds of many students (and their families) who are heading abroad for studies after the summer is the question of campus safety.
The good news is that despite terrible tragedies which have occurred on US college campuses, day to day safety is a very serious concern. This is for obvious reasons – safety is important – but also because of liablity. In fact litigation is the primary driver behind most safety measures in the US. If a person is injured, assaulted, robbed or otherwise harmed on the property of another party, the injured party can justifiably sue the property-owning party (or service-providing party) in a court of law for damages. So colleges must demonstrate that they have done everything within their control to reduce the likelihood of accidents, crime and other safety problems. If they have safety precautions in place, the other party will have difficulty arguing for negligence. This situation cuts both ways though, and it is one of the primary reasons that services and institutional fees are so high in America – it costs money to take thorough safety measures.
The resources provided by campuses are varied. However as a rule, most college campuses have their own police force, which is responsible for campus safety and works in cooperation with the local police force. Serious crimes and arrests are usually handled through the local police. The campus police also often handle issues like bicycle and laptop registration (which reduces theft) recruitment and training of student volunteers to help manage events, hosting self defence classes and a whole range of other public-safety services, depending on the campus.
Most campuses also have a night time service that ensure students have a companion when walking alone back to their room after a late night of studying or even a party. At UCSB, the student-run Campus Security Organization (CSO), which acts a liason between students and campus police, is most popularly know for assigning officers to accompany students late at night either on foot, bicycle or by car, depending on the distance. Programs like this exist at most universities in the U.S.