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 liaison officer for 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
Penn State requires all students, faculty, staff and visitors — including those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated — to wear masks indoors at all campuses.
Community members will be required to wear masks indoors, including in all classrooms — regardless of size — as well as in meeting rooms, common areas in residence halls, and at any indoor events. Individuals may remove their masks while actively eating or drinking, although eating in classrooms is prohibited. Students living in residence halls will not be required to wear a mask in their individual living space. In accordance with CDC guidance, all individuals must wear a face mask while using public transportation.
All Penn State students are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated and share their vaccination status with the University. Additionally, under the federal contractor vaccine mandate, all employees at all Penn State campuses are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved medical/disability- or religious-related accommodation. This mandate requirement is currently under an injunction and will not be implemented by Penn State on Jan. 4; however, the injunction could be lifted in the near future. In the meantime, the University will continue with the current testing protocols already in place. Faculty and staff who are not fully vaccinated, including those working entirely remotely, will be required to test weekly until the legal process is finalized.
Penn State’s Virus Info website has more information, including guidance for students and families and guidance for faculty and staff.
Know how to contact police
For immediate assistance 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 also can 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 email@example.com. To learn more about information security and what you can do to protect yourself online, visit 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 Program 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, students at University Park can 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, with a large percentage of those assaults occurring in the first weeks of the semester as new students are adjusting to college life.
The University offers guidance to all students on understanding consent, the importance of obtaining consent before sexual activity, and resources available to survivors of sexual assault.
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 also can report the crime of sexual assault to University Police and Public Safety.
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.”
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.”