Personal boundaries & safety tips for college students


The college has always been a place of wonder and discovery. Since higher education’s beginnings in the Thirteen Colonies at Harvard in 1636 until today, the college has become a rite of passage and honoured tradition for men and women. However, recent awareness of crime and sexual assault on higher education institutions has upended the utopian feeling once assigned to live on America’s campuses. However, with diligent awareness and practical recommendations, life on campus can be safe and a positive experience.

What are personal boundaries?

The definitions says the “Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits”. There are many types of personal boundaries. We all recognize unwanted touching and sexual advances that break the plane of physical personal boundaries. But, there are other types as well, such as emotional boundaries between friends and colleagues, and mental ones, like having free speech and the ability to share opinions. These are especially true on a college campus where boundaries are often pushed to further academic and artistic freedoms.

But personal boundaries are most often discussed in the more intimate settings between students whose decision-making rational can become clouded with the use of alcohol, drugs, or simply a desire to explore intimate relationships. As recent reports indicate, these situations have the potential to become uncomfortable or violent far too often.

Personal boundary recommendations

So what can a college students do to protect those boundaries? Simple, common sense behaviours are recommended, including simply removing oneself from uncomfortable situations before they have the potential to escalate. Excessive use of alcohol or drugs is a frequent cause of campus sexual assault and rape that can be prevented by limiting consumption and using a buddy system. However, forceful assertiveness to express the necessary “no” can be difficult for young adults who have not yet been exposed to sexually aggressive demands.

In personal situations with friends and colleagues, sharing personal information should be done gradually in a mutual sharing and trusting relationship. Protect the emotional space from intrusion with the confidence to say “yes” or “no,” and be okay when others say “no” to you. Separation of needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires from others is often difficult, but recognizing that your boundaries and needs are different from others is helpful. Using the tools of campus health services and counsellors can aid in empowering yourself to make healthy choices and take responsibility for yourself.

Harassment and assault

What happens when personal boundaries are crossed on campus? Or, even worse, when physical violence in the form of sexual assault or rape occurs? Awareness leads to prevention of these horrible crimes, and although the facts and statistics may be horrifying, it is important to understand them before leaving for school. In recent years, and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there have been increased efforts to help sexual assault victims. Students should alert their campus public safety department and local police if a crime has been committed. Many college campuses also have anonymous hotlines to report unsafe or unethical behaviour

Common safety tips

As discussed above, crime and assault on college campuses are all too common. However, with increased awareness and safety protocols, students need not be a victim. Colleges and universities have increased safety measures and education to protect students and faculty more effectively. Students also need to do their part and would be well advised to follow some simple safety tips:

  • Utilize locks/locking devices/security systems

Simple precautions are often the most effective for student safety on campus. This starts with the best of them all: the lock. Using locks on dorm rooms (and windows), bicycles, and valuable electronic devices is the best deterrent to crime.

  • Take advantage of campus safety apps

Using expensive electronic devices is a requisite at college nowadays. They can also be powerful tools for preventing crime and assault on campus. Many colleges use campus safety apps, like CampusSafe or EmergenSee, for students to report incidents to campus police or utilize their emergency features to avert dangerous situations quickly.

  • Know the campus security programs provided by schools

Most colleges and universities put student safety as their number-one priority. Increased police presence, coupled with policing programs like campus escort services, emergency phone stations, and personal safety training programs, are effective.

  • Be familiar with the campus environment

Although this is most important for freshman and international students, all college attendees should be knowledgeable about their surroundings. Students should become familiar with the campus through walking tours with experienced guides and be made aware of the emergency systems placed throughout the school grounds.

Whether on campus or off, sexual assaults are more likely to occur at night. Women are encouraged to avoid walking alone at night and should be with a companion if out late. Walk on designated pathways and well-lit areas. Being off-campus should increase diligence at night.

  • Be careful before getting into a car

Students driving around campus or those accepting rides should be watchful for potentially hazardous situations. Parking cars in well-lit and populated areas can deter would-be carjackers. As we are taught from an early age, accepting rides from strangers is a no-no. But equally as important is awareness of people asking for directions, handing out fliers, or driving slowly behind you.

  • Drugs and alcohol

Drugs and alcohol (especially binge drinking) are the most common reasons college students become involved in sexual assault. Reduced inhibitions and clouded decision-making create a loss of control, where personal boundaries are crossed and violent actions are more likely to occur.

Students should limit their intake of drugs and alcohol to remain alert and observant at all times. The possibility of powders, pills, and liquids being inserted into drinks is a frequent date-rape tactic. Women should always attend functions with alcohol together with a friend and be watchful for each other’s safety.

  • Protect your privacy on social media

Social media is a lifeline for most college students to communicate with friends and family while away from home. While these tools are incredibly convenient, they can also be dangerous by allowing strangers to have access to personal profiles and know your whereabouts and plans. Disable location services and keep personal information as private as possible.

Let’s talk about personal boundaries and safety

The most important way for college students to protect personal boundaries and stay safe is to talk about it. Before even leaving for school, students can read and engage in numerous anti-crime activities in classes or online. Parents can get involved by talking to their college-bound children about healthy personal boundaries and safety on campus. Once in school, students should utilize the safety education programs offered and discuss proactive methods of remaining safe with friends, staff, and roommates.