Campus safety 101

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 26, 2015

 School clubs and activities are a great way to enjoy campus life without partaking in risky behavior at universities or commuter colleges like Oakland Community College.

School clubs and activities are a great way to enjoy campus life without partaking in risky behavior at universities or commuter colleges like Oakland Community College.

File photo by Donna Agusti

METRO DETROIT — Hiding beneath the excitement of shopping for clothes, towels and new bedding, students going off to college might also be feeling a bit of anxiety leaving home for the first time.

No doubt their parents are.

The transition from living at home to dorm life at a university is meant to be an enjoyable coming-of-age experience, but it’s not all fun and games. Carol Mastroianni knows that all too well. She’s the executive director of the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition, a nonprofit that works to prevent drug and alcohol abuse among students through education and substance-free activities.

She’s sent countless coalition students off to college over the years, but as her own twins enter their senior year, she said she’s been thinking of which conversations she’ll need to have with her kids as they prepare to head off on their own.

“I have to say that as parents, and knowing what I know from doing the work at the coalition, it’s important for me to let them know I’m still their parent, just that the role will change a little bit,” said Mastroianni.

She said many of the conversations with her kids have been and will continue to be about getting on the same page, parent and student, about what expectations will be from each other once college life begins.

“Sometimes kids will disengage. I know I’m not going to be a helicopter parent, but I still want to be involved in their lives,” she said. “It’s really about giving your child some life skills. If they’re equipped, they’ll feel confident from the inside out, and that can really pay huge dividends when it comes to making smart decisions.”

Learning to weigh options and make good decisions is the key to first-year student success in higher education, according to Deputy Chief Mark Coil, of the Shelby Township Police Department.

“So many students aren’t emotionally, mentally or academically prepared for college; I know I wasn’t,” said Coil. “Young kids are going to be stressed out, and it’s important they understand the true consequences of their actions. With newfound freedom,  there’s the potential for serious negative consequences.”

The pressure to drink and use drugs while out of parental eyeshot can be tough to avoid, and so many students find themselves getting in over their head and facing charges like minor in possession and driving under the influence. Medical emergencies, legal charges and school-imposed consequences — like a loss of financial aid or scholarship money — can quickly end an educational experience before it really even begins.

“This idle time, this freedom you have, can be filled with things that can be detrimental and having long-lasting consequences,” said Coil. “This new generation feels like their parents are going to fix everything for them, but part of letting (kids) go is letting them explore campus life for themselves — that means parents will be there to support them, but when it comes to consequences for their actions, they’ll have to face them on their own.”

With the use of drugs and alcohol comes a higher risk of partaking in illegal activity, like vandalism, or becoming a victim of sexual assault. Earlier this summer, the University of Michigan released a study that showed more than 20 percent of female undergraduate students had a nonconsensual sexual experience within the past year.

“There are students that are going to be out on campus, and it will be the first time they’re exposed to these issues, and they have to protect themselves,” said Coil. “Don’t walk on campus by yourself. Always carry a cellphone. Become familiar with where the campus emergency phones are. Are they blue lights or green? Do you have the campus police department phone number programmed in your phone?”

Putting those preventative measures in place before the first day of class can put a student at a lower risk of falling into a situation that could bring them harm.

“As far as defensive tactics, it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve got Mace on your key ring, a whistle, or you’re just going to scream and run away. They’re all just tools, and there’s no one fix-it tool. You have to have a predetermined plan for how you’re going to get out of trouble,” he explained.

Building that plan before students take off for school can not only prevent danger, but it can also contribute to their overall plan for success, Mastroianni said.

“Having those conversations about what their goals are and their desires — more often than not, if they have a vision they want to accomplish, they’re going to set themselves up to make that happen.”

To see more tips on having a safe and productive senior year and college experience, visit the coalition website at