Keeping Students Safe on Campus: Is Social Media the Key?

Christina Diecidue

Marketing Project Coordinator

School safety is a prime concern for parents, administrators and educators, but unfortunately, no school is perfect. In 2012, the CDC reported 749,200 nonfatal violent victimizations that occurred at school among 12 to 18 year olds. It’s not just students that  are affected, either. Nine percent of teachers reported that they have been threatened with injury by a student, and 5% reported that they had been physically attacked by a student in their school.

The Implications of School Violence

School violence is any type of violence that occurs on school property, on the way to or from school or at a school-sponsored event. School violence affects more than just the perpetrator and the victim. It can impact witnesses, staff, parents and other adults in the community. The most common forms of youth violence include pushing, shoving, hitting, bullying, gang violence and the use of weapons.

As one can imagine, school violence has a significant impact on a student’s health and well being. Though not all injuries are visible, they are there. Students exposed to violence are at an increased risk for alcohol and drug use, suicide, depression, anxiety and other psychological problems. If they are involved in the violence, they are at risk for broken bones, bruises and cuts.

Does School Violence Drop Off in College?

As students move to the college setting, a lot of talk about violence seems to dissipate. It’s widely believed that a lot of the “bad seeds” that bring violence to high school campuses don’t move on to college. And there is some truth to this.

Students who have a violent record will find it much harder to get into a reputable college or university. Violent crime is also more prevalent in low-income areas, and these students face a host of barriers for getting into college.

College is not mandatory, and many schools have strict application processes. This attitude has created an ideal college student persona. Someone who is bright, creative and prepared to be a leader of our future. Violence seems out of the question. Unfortunately, the statistics paint a very different picture.

Underreported Crimes on College Campuses

It’s acknowledged from the start that true crime on campus is difficult to report because it goes widely underreported. According to one report, it was stated that many college health professionals are aware of victimization patterns that are not included in any official statistics. The report goes on to say that only 25% of campus crimes were reported to any authority.

Based on the data we do have available, here are some of the statistics of violence on college campuses.

  • According to the Violent Victimization of College Students, about 526,000 violent crimes are reported each year by students 18-24 years old. Of these crimes, about 128,000 involved a weapon or serious injury to the student.

  • One in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives. These statistics have been consistent since the 1980s.

  • One study found that 13.1% of female students said that they had been stalked. Though this is a large number compared to the general population, it’s believed that stalking is more prevalent because of the close proximity on college campuses.

Why Violent Crimes Go Unreported

The above reports discuss some of the underlying factors for why violence persists on college campuses, and the reasons cited include alcohol, racial and ethnic tensions and a sports culture that promotes competition, aggression and male privilege. It’s also discussed why many students don’t report their crimes: embarrassment, lack of understanding of what constitutes a crime or a feeling that the incident wasn’t major.

Violent crime does go underreported on college campuses, and it’s human nature to turn away from the bad and pretend it doesn’t exist. After all, students have to feel safe on campus, and parents have to feel safe sending them. It’s not until something major happens - a  fatal shooting on a college campus, for instance - that prompts everyone to ask questions. Who was this person? Was he/she bullied? Were there any warning signs? Did students and staff have any indication?

The Role of Social Media in Protecting Students

One of the first places that law enforcement and college administrators go to find these answers is social media. Through social listening (the process of monitoring digital media channels), schools can pinpoint posts that may indicate an impending crime. Law enforcement and school officials aren’t looking for campus gossip or the next big bash. They’re looking for red flags that can indicate a crime that can be reduced or eliminated altogether.

Some school officials monitor all online actions, while others won’t look into a student unless they are notified by an open source about threats and suicide.

Social listening isn’t in favor of everyone (though that’s another post in itself), but it is an effective tool in maintaining campus security. While it can’t eliminate violent crime entirely, it does serve as an added layer of protection. If a student is posting things on social media that is questionable, school officials are prompted to dig deeper and explore the intent behind the posts. Is the student a threat to themselves or others? Is the student being bullied? Are there resources available on campus to help the student?

It’s not just preventing crimes that social media can help with, but also solving them. When things do occur, social media monitoring tools can help follow the roadmap of crime to see what happened and who was involved. It’s common for information to leak out, or for photos and videos to surface. Investigators can also learn about the intent of the crime. Knowing what drives violent crime on campus allows colleges and universities to offer the right resources and intervene where necessary.

Social media is also an excellent public relations tool. It keeps students informed before, during and after a crime occurs. It helps bridge the gap between students and school officials and law enforcement. They want to be viewed as approachable; they want to know about crimes that happen on campus. They hope that the use of social media will help them to be more connected to students rather than being the last to find out about things.

Conclusion  

It’s important for students to look at social media monitoring as a positive asset to their health, well-being and overall education. School administrators that monitor social media aren’t looking for the next big party. They’re ensuring the safety of their students and watching for potential behavior and language that could indicate violence or crime on campus.

It’s not a foolproof method, and it’s understandable that some will have their reservations, but at the end of the day, it’s a step in the right direction. What student or parent wouldn’t want someone looking over their shoulder for their happiness, safety and quality of life? It’s a role that colleges and universities take seriously, and one that is made more achievable through social media.

 
About the Author: Christina Diecidue

Christina Diecidue is the Marketing Project Coordinator at SEMGeeks.  She holds a B.S. in Business Administration, with concentrations in marketing, advertising, and web design from Rider University.  Known to be a meticulous worker, Christina values each client's individual goals and works to meet their digital strategy needs accordingly.  With valuable knowledge in higher education, alumni engagement, and leadership, she provides an array of skills to the SEMGeeks team.  In her free time, Christina can be found binge watching repeats of Friends and spending time with her family.

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